ROCKLAND — Have you ever thought about gaining a new source of income by growing mussels, oysters, or seaweed? Island Institute is now accepting applications for its 2020 Aquaculture Business Development (ABD) program and is looking to support coastal and island residents who are highly motivated to start shellfish or seaweed aquaculture businesses within the next two years.
To be considered for the program, those interested must submit a short, six-question application by March 13.
Aquaculture is a natural business expansion for those already working on the water, according to the Institute, in a news release. Along with the familiarity of working in a marine environment, lobstering and other commercial fishing trades already have the experience of operating a business. In addition, starting a complementary business can absorb the impacts of potential changes in the lobster industry. Studies indicate that Maine’s growth potential in aquaculture is substantial, highlighting that the Maine oyster industry could triple in size, and the mussel industry could grow six-fold, between 2015 and 2030. In addition, preliminary data from the Maine Department of Marine Resources indicate that farmed seaweed production grew five-fold in 2019.
“As the market continues to expand, there is tremendous opportunity in Maine’s aquaculture sector,” said Peter Piconi, marine business specialist with the Island Institute, in the release. “The ABD program gives participants both the academic and experiential learning tools to succeed in this burgeoning industry and allows fishing communities to diversify their income through seaweed and shellfish farming.”
The program's impact over the last four years is significant, according to the Institute: currently 100 individuals have gone through the program, 33 have started businesses with crops in the water, and the Island Institute estimates that these businesses have contributed over $3.5 million to Maine’s economy.
The strength of the program is its focus on business planning, prolonged one-on-one support services, and networking to help cohort members get started in the water.
Program participants receive:
Training on how to grow oysters, mussels, and seaweed
Knowledge of the state leasing process, site selection, and community relations
The opportunity to visit established aquaculture operations throughout New England
Connections to existing aquaculturists and industry experts
Assistance in developing a business plan, marketing strategy, and farm management plan
Access to financing and continued business support for the first three years of business operation
“Lobstermen used to look at aquaculture as a ‘not in my backyard’ type of thing or something that wasn’t even a possibility,” said Kyle Rolerson, a recent ABD participant and lobsterman on Wheeler’s Bay. “Now, thanks to the ABD program, the landscape of those conversations has changed and people are much more open to aquaculture as a possibility.”
Added Rolerson, “I've seen more water in Maine as part of the ABD program than I’ve seen on my own lobstering in the last 30 years. Getting access to people’s farms and businesses and getting their honest answers and opinions on where the industry has been and where it’s going was key.”
This year’s cohort will kick off with group and individual meetings in April, followed by a two- to three-day aquaculture boot camp where participants will receive hands-on training at sea farms in early May. Throughout the summer, members of the cohort will receive one-on-one assistance from Island Institute staff as they start their businesses, and the year will round out with several more in-person meetings in the late fall and winter in order to cover the essential topics listed above.
Applications and further details are available on the Island Institute website at www.islandinstitute. org/aquaculture, or by calling the Institute at (207) 594-9209.
Those interested may also visit the Island Institute’s table at the 45th Maine Fishermen’s Forum on Friday, March 6, and Saturday, March 7, from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., at the Samoset Resort in Rockport, to speak with staff and pick up more information.
In addition, Peter Piconi, marine business specialist at the Island Institute, will share further details about the program in his Forum session, “Aquaculture Training Opportunities for Fishermen and Marine Tradespeople," on Saturday, March 7, from 2:45 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.