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September 4, 2017 FOCUS: Startups / Entrepreneurship

There's been a surge in aquaculture startups

Photo / Dave Clough Peter Miller and Merritt Casey helped start the Maine Aquaculture Co-op, Maine's first scallop farming cooperative, at Millers' Wharf in Tenants Harbor.

Maine has a fair amount of new activity in the aquaculture sector due to a variety of factors, starting with Maine's pristine water and protected embayments and rivers. Then there is growing interest from commercial fishermen, with on-the-water skill, who see aquaculture as a viable enterprise as various wild fisheries have closed or been curtailed. And Maine has an extensive network of aquaculture organizations that support education, business incubation, R&D and marketing. FocusMaine — a privately led economic development initiative — has recognized aquaculture as one of Maine's three signature industries.

  • Maine Shellfish Developers LLC, based at Darling Marine Center on the Damariscotta River, received two Maine Technology Institute matching grants of $25,000 each to create a novel winter oyster nursery, allowing farmers to jumpstart the growing season and potentially reduce the current growth cycle by half. The process utilizes climate-controlled recirculating water tanks and development of an inexpensive, alternative feed. The project started this past winter with 100,000 seeds and saw good development, said principal Tap Pryor. A portion of seedlings was placed on a farm in April and is being monitored for growth.
  • Aqualine LLC, which is also at Darling Marine Center, is exploring the manufacture of an affordable bioreactor to grow microalgae for feed. Other ideas include creation of a hatchery for mussel seed and cross-utilization of seafood waste.
  • The new Maine Aquaculture Co-op, at Millers' Wharf in Tenants Harbor, is Maine's first scallop farming cooperative. It has Maine Department of Agriculture funding of $46,000 for development of an ear-hung scallop aquaculture infrastructure and the purchase of lantern nets, a scallop grader and start wheel. The co-op matched the grant with $14,297. It also received an $8,500 seed grant from the MTI to buy lantern nets; the co-op matched that with $26,897. The technique was imported from Japan.
  • Open Ocean Oysters in July received a $25,000 matching MTI grant to test its oyster growing system, utilizing material handing methods to drastically reduce labor costs and size requirements of oyster growing leases. The goal is to accelerate growth and reduce labor needs in the nursery and grow-out phases of oyster farming.
  • FPN LLC, another company working out of the Darling Marine Center, is developing culture systems to rear microalgae for nutraceutical applications.
  • American Unagi in July received a $10,000 Gorham Savings Bank “emerging idea” grant to develop culture technology for rearing wild-caught glass eels to market size to meet the growing U.S. demand for eels.

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