Aquaculture is the practice of growing seafood in a controlled setting, as opposed to harvesting wild populations. Aquaculture accounts for roughly half of all global seafood production and its output is increasing rapidly while wild-harvest rates have remained essentially flat. Marine species being farmed commercially in the Gulf of Maine include Atlantic salmon, eastern oysters, blue mussels, and sugar kelp. Farmers and researchers are working to develop techniques for growing additional species such as sea scallops, soft-shell clams, dulce (sea lettuce), American eel, and Atlantic halibut.
GMRI has launched a program to support the growth of the aquaculture industry in the Gulf of Maine. The increasingly important role that aquaculture is playing in the Gulf and its potential to support livelihoods in coastal communities have inspired GMRI to delve into this new area. Approached properly, aquaculture produces some of the most sustainable and nutritious food available. But the growth of the industry must be pursued thoughtfully to remain in balance with the ecosystem, minimize conflicts with existing users of the marine environment, and maintain the high quality of product that rightfully fetches a premium in the marketplace.
GMRI is working collaboratively with industry leaders, farmers, researchers, the business community, and other nonprofits to identify and pursue opportunities to expand aquaculture production. Together, we will help the industry overcome obstacles related to access to capital, risk management, site selection, environmental monitoring, market identification and development, and cooperative approaches to enhancing profitability.
For more than a decade, GMRI has worked to ensure that the Gulf of Maine’s rich and productive ecosystem supports an array of wild fisheries and the communities that depend upon them. In addition to healthy wild fisheries, an expanded aquaculture industry is essential for the region to meet the challenges of feeding a growing population and adapting to a warming climate. Far from being mutually exclusive, the two approaches lie along the same continuum of marine stewardship that rely on a clean environment, a keen understanding of the Gulf of Maine, thoughtful management, innovative leadership, and an informed and supportive public.
A new report, prepared by The Hale Group at the direction of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute’s Aquaculture Program, reveals tremendous opportunity for Maine’s aquaculture industry. The report also includes strategic recommendations to optimize growth to maintain product quality without competing with existing farms or overburdening coastal ecosystems and communities.
The report is the result of GMRI’s efforts since late 2015 to convene Maine’s aquaculture industry — including active farmers, leading consultants, trade groups, and others — to better understand the current market challenges and opportunities for Maine in this global industry. This system-level focus is reflected in the report, and is meant to benefit the industry as a whole.
The Oyster Farmer
Mook Sea Farm is an oyster farm founded in 1985 on the Damariscotta River in Midcoast Maine. There, owner and operator Bill Mook unites a passion for science and discovery with a fierce entrepreneurial streak.