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February 6, 2017 Biz Money

Aquaculture's impact in Maine almost triples

Aquaculture is the fastest-growing food production business in the world, and it's already contributing nearly $138 million in both direct and multiplier or related economic impact to the state.

The Maine Aquaculture Economic Impact Report, issued in late January by the University of Maine Aquaculture Research Institute and its collaborators, also found a total economic impact of 1,078 jobs and $56.09 million in labor income in 2014. The numbers came from 71 survey respondents. The state had 107 aquaculture businesses in production in 2014.

The report noted that Maine has advantages in a competitive world economy because its economic prosperity depends largely on its geography, physical resources and human capital. That makes the state's coastline and marine resources a unique asset for aquaculture, the report found.

More fish farming needed

Aquaculture, the farming of finfish, shellfish or plants in fresh or salt water, produces all kinds of potential revenue sources, including food fish, sport fish, bait fish, ornamental fish, crustaceans, mollusks, algae, sea vegetables, research animals and fish eggs. Aquaculture also includes growing plant species used in food, pharmaceutical, nutritional and biotechnology products.

The report noted that 62% of food fish is expected to be produced by aquaculture by 2030, which translates into a needed 70% increase in global production. Aquaculture production grew 6.5% annually from 2000 to 2012. The United States is the third-largest market for seafood in the world but imports 91% of its seafood, resulting in an $11.2 billion trade deficit.

The report noted that Maine has a long history of supplying North American markets with fresh seafood and is within a 24-hour truck ride of over 150 million customers. The state's 107 aquaculture businesses marine grow-out farms, marine hatcheries, freshwater grow-out farms, freshwater hatcheries, land-based aquaculture and aquaponics.

  • Maine's aquaculture sector has a direct economic impact of $73.4 million in output (sales revenue), 571 in employment and $35.7 million in labor income.
  • Since 2007 the total economic impact of aquaculture has almost tripled from $50 million to $137 million dollars.
  • The top three species are Atlantic salmon, blue mussels and Eastern oysters.
  • All sub-sectors include businesses reporting more than $2 million in sales revenue in 2014.
  • Most jobs related to aquaculture production are full-time, all-year positions. Less than 30% of employment is seasonal.
  • Some 39% of respondents reported $0 revenue. An unknown portion of them represent start-up companies.
  • Research services account for 47% of the revenue reported by aquaculture businesses providing services.
  • Some 86% of aquaculture producers send their produce to wholesalers or distributors.
  • Most businesses in the sector made sales in-state in 2014. The shellfish sub-sector sold the most in-state in 2014.
  • For all expenditure categories, feed is the highest cost and accounts for 57% of expenditures.
  • Some businesses reported a fall in sales revenue over the last five years, but the majority reported an increase. The greatest rise was in the shellfish sub-sector.
  • There is substantial optimism in the aquaculture sector, with 73% of respondents predicting 51% or greater increase in sales revenue by 2020. This optimism is greatest in the shellfish, sea vegetable and service providers sub-sectors and is probably spurred by the newer companies.
  • A large portion of the sector is new; 24% of respondents began operations in the last two years and another 21% began operations in the last three to five years.
  • Aquaculture production varies considerably annually in part due to site rotation and fallowing routines.

The study was conducted when finfish production was at a low point in its normal three-year rotation cycle, thus significantly reducing the economic impact of that sub-sector.

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