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December 17, 2018

Whole Oceans partnering with USM on workforce development program

Rendering / Courtesy Whole Oceans In Bucksport, Whole Oceans will convert the former Verso paper mill into a land-based salmon aquafarm. The company is collaborating with the University of Southern Maine to offer a course in aquaponics and recirculatory aquaculture systems as a way of creating job opportunities in the growing aquaculture industry in Maine.

Whole Oceans, a company planning to construct a land-based Atlantic salmon aquafarm on the site of the former Verso Paper Mill in Bucksport, will collaborate with the University of Southern Maine to offer a course in aquaponics and recirculatory aquaculture systems.

Jennifer Fortier, Whole Oceans’ outreach and development associate, told the Bucksport Town Council last week the course is aimed at people interested in the industry and potentially in job training.

“Taking the course does not mean automatically getting a job with us,” she said. “It’s not about giving someone all the knowledge they need. It’s about sparking interest to learn more.”

The company plans to make $250 scholarships available for each of up to 10 spots reserved for Bucksport residents, she said.

“We want to support people in Bucksport area who want take this course, if they’re interested in working for us,” she said.

USM plans to provide additional scholarships of $400 to $450 for seven of the Bucksport-dedicated spots, she said. The full-semester course cost is expected to be $1,000. The council agreed  that the Town of Bucksport would give seven $100 and three $250 scholarships for the program.

The online course will also include field trips, she said.

According to a USM news release, the course, “Practical Guide to Aquaculture,” will present an overview of aquaponic growing and RAS, taught at a lay level for non-scientists. The course will also discuss the business of land-based farming and aquaculture, as well as the global context of aquaponics and recirculating aquaculture.

Theo Willis, USM associate professor of environmental science and policy and course instructor, said in the release that the course material is relevant now more than ever, as companies begin to explore Midcoast Maine as a haven for developing the systems.

“It's a relatively new industry and sector so there's lots of room for entrepreneurs right now,” Willis said.

Whole Oceans estimates 50 to 60 new positions in Bucksport for its first phase of production, with more down the road. That includes a variety of positions from animal husbandry technicians to tradespeople, fish biologists and engineers as well as sales, marketing and corporate staff.

“We want to encourage Maine residents to become trained in the skills needed for this burgeoning industry,” Fortier said in the release.

Whole Oceans will play an active role in the course instruction, Willis said, with several of their senior personnel teaching modules on aspects of the land-based aquaculture business, plus technical aspects of land-based aquaculture.

At the council meeting, Fortier said Whole Oceans continues to work through the federal and state permitting process and hopes to close by the end of this year on the purchase of 108 acres at the former Verso mill site.

“Everything is going well,” she said. “We haven’t had any major roadblocks.”

Whole Oceans is working with contractors Cianbro and CES Inc. on site development, she said.

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