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July 27, 2015 On the record

Former House Leader Seth Berry transitions into private sector with Kennebec River Biosciences

Photo / Tim Greenway Seth Berry of Kennebec River Biosciences, a Richmond lab that provides products and services supporting fisheries and fish farms worldwide.

Seth Berry of Bowdoinham served in the Maine Legislature for eight years (2006–14), ending his term as House majority leader. In January, Berry was hired by Richmond-based Kennebec River Biosciences as vice president for international business development.

KRB, founded in 1996, provides testing and health services to farms, businesses, government agencies and scientific research institutions involved with aquatic species. KRB expects to double its staff over the next several years, from the current 14. Mainebiz recently chatted with Berry. An edited transcript follows.

Mainebiz: How has your transition gone, moving from the public to the private sector?

Seth Berry: It's been great. Something I've thought about a lot in my time in the public sector is, How do we prepare our young people and our incumbent work force for the next economy? How do we make sure Maine is relevant in the global economy? I talked with a lot of business owners, scientists and non-profit folks who work in this arena. I've really done a lot of listening. It's really an exciting space, the innovation that's happening in Maine, just as it is in Silicon Valley or the beltway in Boston. Maine is clearly doing some great things. Often by boot strapping. But often by getting public support, as well, like from the Maine Technology Institute.

MB: How did you pick Kennebec River Biosciences?

SB: In 2006, I was campaigning. I knocked on every door in the district. CEO Bill Keleher and office manager Rebecca Boulanger welcomed me into their offices. I was blown away by the kind of work they were doing. Very advanced, scientific diagnostic work supporting fisheries, fish farms, the health of aquatic animals.

The lab was continually an example of the kind of business that we want to grow more of here in Maine, to make sure our state is relevant. KRB is providing a service and product that can't be outsourced. It adds value to Maine's economy and builds on a unique strength. We have a long tradition of fishing in Maine and this is one evolution of that history.

MB: Research suggests more of the global diet will rely on fish and more of that fish will be farmed. How is KRB positioned to serve the farms that will support these trends?

SB: Yes, the kind of science we provide allows fish farmers to be more proactive, as opposed to reactive, in monitoring and supporting the health of their animals and in producing much healthier, fresher, tastier fish as well. Using very targeted vaccines really helps the fish farmers get away from the use of antibiotics. We also support farmers with better management techniques. They may not need a vaccine or health product. Sometimes, it's just understanding what pathogens you have in your aquatic environment and preventing them from erupting into a full-scale disease. We're all swimming in a sea of microbes. How do we use those beneficial microbes as well, for example. Science can help bring fish farming into a more responsible, more sustainable era.

MB: One of your clients is an Idaho farmer who converted his cattle operation to a tilapia farm. With aquaculture becoming so popular, what's hot within the sector?

SB: It's not just catching more fish these days. It's utilizing more fully the fish that are harvested. There's a lot of interest right now in 'How do I get more from the fish that I'm bringing to market?' Are there parts of the fish that can be sold for something other than compost?

Those are areas we've been supporting and bringing our science to bear. Centuries ago, Native Americans planted corn and beans together because the beans were nitrogen fixers. You can do similar things in aquaculture. It's called integrated multi-trophic aquaculture. It involves combining several species that benefit from one another's presence. For example, people are experimenting with farming fish, shellfish and seaweed together. Also, the industry is really moving forward in land-based recirculating aquaculture systems. It's absolutely astonishing how much is going on in this arena and how good the farm-to-product can be.

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