February 1, 2019

Island Institute planting seeds for 10-fold increase in Maine's aquaculture industry

Courtesy / Island Institute
Courtesy / Island Institute
From left, Jason Joyce and Josh Joyce of Swan's Island Oyster Farm talk to Adam Campbell of North Haven Oyster about how their salt pond functions for oysters.

For more information

Applications and additional information are available on the Island Institute website, or by calling the Institute at (207) 594-9209, ext. 159. For questions regarding the Aquaculture Business Development program, contact Peter Piconi at or Sam Belknap at

Since its inception in 2015, Island Institute's Aquaculture Business Development program has had 75 individuals go through the program, with 20 starting businesses that have contributed an estimated $3.1 million to Maine's economy.

By 2020, the program's goal is to have helped start 60 businesses with an overall impact on Maine's economy totaling $36 million, according to the institute's Jan. 28 news release.

The Island Institute is accepting applications for its 2019 Aquaculture Business Development program. The free program helps fishermen and those from fishing communities gain the tools they need to diversify and launch small-scale aquaculture businesses.

The Island Institute is looking to work with coastal and island residents who are highly motivated to start a shellfish or seaweed aquaculture businesses within the next two years. Applications are being accepted through March 14.

"Maine's emerging aquaculture industry has a lot of opportunity and growth potential. The Aquaculture Business Development program provides both the academic and experiential learning tools to enter that growing arena," Peter Piconi, marine business specialist with the Island Institute, said in the release. "More importantly, fisherman can diversify their income which, in turn, helps island and coastal economies thrive. We are excited to help a new group of individuals gain the tools they need to launch their aquaculture businesses."

Oysters ready for the market

Courtesy / Island Institute
Courtesy / Island Institute
Josh Joyce, left, co-owner of Swan’s Island Oyster Farm, talks with Zeb Campbell of North Haven Oyster.

Mainebiz spoke with Piconi shortly after he returned from Swan's Island, where he was consulting on two of the start-ups, both of which are focused on oyster culture. Piconi was assessing an oyster upweller for one and site feasibility for another.

One of the operations was started by Jason Joyce and his cousin Josh Joyce, who took part in the program in 2018.

Both Joyces are eighth-generation islanders and commercial fishermen who enrolled in the program to consider the benefits while also weighing the costs of starting an oyster farm of their own, the release said.

"Thanks to the program, we took the plunge two years ago and started Swan's Island Oyster Farm," said Jason Joyce. "We'll be putting our oysters on the market this spring, and we couldn't have done it without their help. Our heartfelt appreciation to the Island Institute for their continued guidance in this new business venture."

Opportunities to diversify income

Aquaculture is considered a natural business expansion for those already working on the water, because of familiarity of working in that environment, the experience of operating a business and the fact it is complementary to lobstering and other marine trades, according to the release.

"Economists, scientists and industry experts predict that Maine's growth potential in aquaculture is significant," the release said. "In 2016, the Gulf of Maine Research Institute found that the Maine oyster industry would triple in size, and the mussel industry would grow six-fold, between 2015 and 2030."

The program focuses on culturing mussels, oysters and seaweed, said Piconi. The start-ups coming out of the program, to date, range along the coast from Eastport to Cape Elizabeth.

Participants range in age from early 20s to seasoned lobstermen in their 60s or older.

"This give them the opportunity to diversify their income," Piconi said. "That builds resilience into their communities.

"Our main goal is to support working waterfront and support the people who are already there," he said.

Focus on business planning

The program takes participants from set-up through to marketing. The founders of Maine Ocean Farms took part in the 2017 program, developing a farm on Casco Bay that started with 30,000 oysters. They're now growing 150,000 oysters, he said.

The focus is on business planning, prolonged one-on-one support services, and networking to help cohort members get started in the water. Features include: training for growing oysters, mussels, and seaweed; knowledge of the state's leasing process and site selection; assistance with developing business and marketing plans; and access to financing and continued business support for the first three years of business operation.

Participants also visit established aquaculture businesses and connect with existing aquaculturists and industry experts, allowing them to learn first-hand the ins and outs of running a business like this.

This year's cohort will kick off with all-group and individual meetings in April, followed by a two- to three-day aquaculture boot camp where they will receive hands-on training at sea farms in early May.

Throughout the summer, participants 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.


Type your comment here:

Today's Poll Who do you think will win this Sunday's Super Bowl?<>
Most Popular on Facebook