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Updated: October 21, 2021

Maine aquaculturists issue nation’s first occupational standards for growing industry

Courtesy / Maine Aquaculture Association New occupational standards in the aquaculture industry include ones for shellfish harvesters, like this oyster farm.

In a sign that the industry is rapidly maturing, the Maine Aquaculture Association in Hallowell this week released a set occupational standards for marine farming — the first such benchmarks in the country, the group said.

"Based on a strong collaboration between the farmers and the educational community, these standards will help ensure that Maine aquaculture businesses have the skills and training needed to compete in a global market,” Executive Director Sebastian Belle said in a news release.

Workforce skills 

The standards specify workforce skills and training needs of Maine’s aquaculture sector. Altogether, standards were released for four sectors:

person in factory
Courtesy / Maine Aquaculture Association
Occupational standards include details such as skills needed for processing farmed mussels, as seen in this mussel processing operation.

The standards are intended to give education and training providers a comprehensive understanding of specific technical skills and knowledge considered critical for the most common careers in each sector. The document is also designed to standardize workforce training in the state and establish an industry-led process to align training with workforce needs as industry and workforce needs evolve. 

Industry input

The standards are based on industry input from one-on-one interviews with commercial businesses across Maine. They are a pillar of the recommendations from the Maine Aquaculture Workforce Development Strategy, a report produced by the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in partnership with the Maine Aquaculture Association and Educate Maine and sponsored by FocusMaine.

Although Maine’s aquaculture industry is small, compared with seafood farming elsewhere in the nation and the world, it’s becoming increasingly diversified and is expected to grow.

Currently, Maine’s aquaculture workforce exceeds 600 direct employees, plus auxiliary services and supported trades, according to the report.

By 2022, the workforce is projected to include 880 employees across production and related activities, and over 1,600 across the supply chain. By 2030, the workforce could exceed 1,200 direct employees, and over 2,200 in the total production, supply chain and downstream markets.

person with line on boat
Courtesy / Maine Aquaculture Association
Vessel and workplace safety, such as wearing or using safety equipment, are among the consideration in newly issued standards for scallop farmers, like the one seen here.

The Maine Aquaculture Association, which has a track record of over 25 years of developing operating standards and best management practices for  aquaculture sector, worked with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute to build on top of the report’s findings by conducting the interviews. The draft standards were then shared with the Maine aquaculture sector and educational community for final review and edits.

The standards are segmented into several sections based on the sector, type of work and job title, with a table of contents.

person pulling up kelp
Courtesy / Maine Aquaculture Association
Standards include Maine’s growing seaweed farming industry and include an understanding of matters such as such as how to safely use, store and sterilize a knife while harvesting seaweed.

"The development of these first-of-their-kind standards shows once again that Maine's sea farmers are leading the nation in the emergence of a competitive and sustainable domestic aquaculture sector," said Belle.

The association also released a supplementary document, the Maine Shellfish Aquaculture Career Pathways Map, designed to provide an overview of the most common job types, entry points and career pathway opportunities in Maine’s shellfish aquaculture sector.

A number of Maine institutions off training programs for careers in aquaculture, including Mid-Coast School of Technology, Coastal Washington County Institute of Technology, Presque Isle Regional Career and Technical Center, Maine Ocean School, Washington County Community College, Southern Maine Community College, Aquaculture Research Institute, Unity College, College of the Atlantic, Maine Maritime Academy, University of Maine and University of New England.

Although none of the programs fully meet the occupational standards, all of the institutions are working to bring their programs into alignment with the new standards. 

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