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August 11, 2021

With $10M raised, Waldoboro aquaculture site moves forward

Courtesy / American Unagi American Unagi founder and President Sara Rademaker, along with a friend, checks out the future site of her company's aquaculture site in Waldoboro.

America Unagi, an aquaculture company cultivating and selling locally sourced, Maine-grown eels, has begun construction of a $10 million, 27,000-square-foot facility in Waldoboro.

COVID-19 delayed planned construction for 2020, but American Unagi recently began pouring concrete and laying pipes for Maine’s first land-based eel aquaculture facility at the Waldoboro Business Park.

“We looked at several sites and found what we needed in terms of space in Waldoboro. The town has welcomed us as a business and the fishing community has welcomed us as a partner,” John Pavan, executive vice president and manager of American Unagi, told Mainebiz.

The new facility will allow the nascent business to increase production to over 500,000 pounds — or roughly 5% of the U.S. eel market. American Unagi already ships its eel products to individuals, restaurants and food distributors. The base product, live eel, costs $16 to $18 per pound.

American Unagi’s recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) facility will be the first in the U.S. to grow Maine eels to market size. The equipment was designed by Netherlands-based ACE, an RAS design-build specialist with 30 years of industry experience. 

“We chose ACE because of its commitment to innovation and efficiency,” said Sara Rademaker, American Unagi’s president and founder. “They’ve assisted us in designing a farm that outperforms competing products and allows us to scale up and meet the strong demand for our eels.”

The facility, which will feature a series of tanks for different sized eels, will be completed by the elver season in the spring of 2022, Pavan said.

The general contractor for the full-financed project is Maine Coast Construction of Camden, which has been building seafood processing, manufacturing and storage buildings for more than 50 years.

The project was funded with the help of Gorham Savings Bank, Coastal Enterprises Inc (CEI) and the Finance Authority of Maine. With the new facility, American Unagi will buy elvers from local glass eel harvesters and also create 14 jobs in Waldoboro.

American Unagi will buy about 600 pounds of elvers each season that will be grown to maturity within the facility and then processed into butterflied fillets or ready-to-eat smoked eel or sold live. The company declined to comment on its hedging strategy for managing the wild fluctuations in the elver market, where glass eels can fetch more than $2,000 a pound.

The company offers a Maine-based alternative to shipping elvers to Asia for them to grow into maturity and then be resold back to U.S. restaurants. 

“Because of concerns about sustainability and accountability in the supply chain, U.S. chefs had taken eel off the market,” Rademaker said. “Now, we can offer eels from responsibly managed wild stock that are raised to market size in Maine without hormones or antibiotics.”

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