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June 5, 2024

Passamaquoddy awarded $4.3M to build eel farm in Washington County

The Passamaquoddy Tribe at Indian Township was awarded a $4.3 million grant to build an eel-growing  farm and to create value-added products such as filet and kabayaki, a Japanese delicacy, in the Washington County town of Princeton.

The money comes from the Indigenous Animals Harvesting and Meat Processing grant program, which is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program.

The award was one of eight across the nation to come from the grant program.

The Passamaquoddy will develop the farm through a partnership with American Unagi Inc., a Waldoboro startup that’s the only U.S. producer and processor of American eel.

“Not only does this grant support a growing business here in Maine, American Unagi, it also allows the Passamaquoddy tribe new access to economic sustainability, and the opportunity to turn a traditional harvesting practice into a business,” said Rhiannon Hampson, the USDA’s Maine state director.

“It further creates a way to produce culturally appropriate food for Asian Americans here in New England. Each one of these dollars invested in this project can now resonate through multiple communities acting as a thread, weaving together, people while strengthening our food system.”

Market-size eels are grown from baby eels harvested in Maine. The harvest form Maine’s lucrative fishery for baby eels — also called elvers or glass eels, depending on their stage of maturity — is typically shipped to aquaculture facilities in Asia, where they are grown and processed for restaurants and food purveyors. 

American Unagi contracts for a small portion of the harvest to as part of its mission to offer a Maine-based alternative to shipping baby eels to Asia for them to grow into maturity and then be resold back to U.S. restaurants.

The Passamaquoddy facility is expected to create jobs for members of the tribe and economic opportunities for hundreds of harvesters; and to help the tribe increase profits that support its programs and services and achieve full sovereignty using natural and cultural resources.

USDA’s Indigenous Animals Harvesting and Meat Processing grant program supports the priorities of Tribal Nations utilizing traditional harvesting methods and indigenous animals. The funding also helps expand processing opportunities for animals that are native to North America like bison, reindeer, salmon and Maine’s silver eels. 

The Passamaquoddy Tribe at Indian Township in Princeton will use its grant to farm eels in a new aquaculture facility as an alternative to wild harvesting.

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