NOAA Sea Grant National Aquaculture Initiative awards $1.6M to advance sustainable aquaculture in Maine 

NOAA National Sea Grant Program awarded $16 million for 42 projects nationwide that comprise the 2019 Sea Grant National Aquaculture Initiative.

Maine Sea Grant, researchers at the University of Maine, other institutions, and partner organizations received $1.6 million to lead four of the projects in collaboration with aquaculture industry, management and community partners.

Maine Sea Grant also will participate in advanced collaborative projects led by Connecticut and Maryland Sea Grant Programs that collectively received awards totaling $2.3 million.

“Thousands of Mainers rely on marine industries for their livelihoods, and aquaculture is a promising area for growth,” said U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King.

“With these new resources, the Maine Sea Grant program will be able to conduct additional research and analysis that supports the sustainability of this emerging sector of the Maine economy — from work on food safety and quality to developing new markets and providing critical information to policymakers.”

The initiative will tap the expertise of university-based professionals in the Sea Grant network to address seafood consumption needs in the United States.

The U.S. currently imports 85% of its seafood, resulting in a $14 billion trade deficit, according to NOAA Fisheries. And as seafood consumption continues to rise, and wild-caught fisheries will not meet demands, new opportunities are opening in aquaculture.

This is driven by the increased demand for domestic, locally sourced and sustainably produced protein, as well as the need to diversify the working waterfront and the national effort to reduce the seafood trade deficit.

“Maine’s history of innovation, collaboration and economic development in this sector positioned institutions in the state to compete successfully for almost one-third of the federal funds awarded,” says Gayle Zydlewski, director of Maine Sea Grant and a professor in the UMaine School of Marine Sciences.

“These new funds will help enable the next level of sustainable development for Maine’s seafood economy and brand, while addressing working waterfront and community needs.”

The 42 projects nationwide are targeted in one of three areas. Ten will focus on accelerating the development of collaborative networks. Sixteen will explore new, and sometimes higher-risk, aquaculture opportunities. And 16 others will look to fill gaps in social, behavioral and economic knowledge relating to aquaculture and communities it impacts and serves. Maine received awards in all three areas.

“Through its support of innovative production methods and thoughtful policy development, Sea Grant is helping ensure that the growth of U.S. aquaculture is sustainable, helps preserve opportunity in working waterfront communities and remains economically viable in a competitive world market,” said Sebastian Belle, executive director of the Maine Aquaculture Association.

Zydlewski worked with Deborah Bouchard of the UMaine Aquaculture Research Institute, Belle of the Maine Aquaculture Association, Hugh Cowperthwaite of Coastal Enterprises, Inc., Chris Davis of Maine Aquaculture Innovation Center, and Teresa Johnson of the UMaine School of Marine Sciences to secure a $1,199,996 project to establish a Maine Aquaculture Hub coordinated by Maine Sea Grant to build capacity for industry-driven innovation, diversification and workforce development.

The hub will help the aquaculture industry overcome barriers associated with commerce, permitting and policies, new species, production systems, and seafood safety and quality. The award also will help train entrants to the aquaculture industry and support workforce development for existing aquaculture businesses through an expansion of the Aquaculture in Shared Waters training program, established by the project collaborators in 2013.

“When National Sea Grant released the call for advanced collaborative proposals the Maine Sea Grant team immediately turned to our industry and community partners to structure a proposal to overcome barriers in Maine,” said Zydlewski.

“We plan to collectively create formal opportunities for researchers, industry and interested parties to work together to identify and address these barriers.”

Laura Rickard, assistant professor in UMaine’s Department of Communication and Journalism, was awarded $249,424 to examine public perceptions of recirculating aquaculture systems (RASs) in order to support sustainable decision-making.

Selecting aquaculture sites involves engaging with communities. And communities may view the facilities with delight, despair, or a combination of both, said Rickard.

She will explore public perceptions, including individuals’ connections to their community and their trust in various officials, as well as communication by and about RAS facilities, including media coverage, marketing materials and public meetings.

She’ll seek to identify and address potential barriers to siting aquaculture facilities, including sense of place, trust and perceived naturalness.

“Greater understanding of the dynamics between aquaculture entrepreneurs and local residents and officials can enhance Sea Grant’s ability to promote a strong U.S. aquaculture sector,” said Rickard. “In particular, as land-based recirculating aquaculture systems are increasingly proposed to raise finfish in Maine, research is needed not just to inform technical and biological decision-making, but also to guide best practices for understanding, documenting and responding to community concerns about proposed sites, practices and facilities.”

Rickard will be joined by Bridie McGreavy of UMaine and Branden Johnson of Decision Research. Partners include Maine Sea Grant and California Sea Grant.

Through Maine Sea Grant, Jeff Auger of Mook Sea Farm was awarded $76,868 to develop an innovative ocean-bottom cage and hauling technology for commercial shellfish growers.

“As shellfish growers, we are well aware of the challenges facing shellfish aquaculturists in Maine and elsewhere,” Auger said.

“The cage we propose to develop would address production challenges, such as biofouling [accumulation of microorganisms, plants and algae] and species diversification. The new cage design would also address increasing social opposition to aquaculture gear that changes boat access and impacts people’s water view.”

The team includes William Mook and Meredith White of Mook Sea Farm. Maine Sea Grant is a partner.

Through Maine Sea Grant, UMaine alum Marissa McMahan of Manomet, Inc. was awarded $65,172 to examine the viability of quahog and oyster cultivation in Maine.

Quahog aquaculture is a potential diversification strategy for shellfish harvesters who’ve been impacted by historically low soft-shell clam landings as well as for oyster farmers looking to hedge against a rapidly increasing supply of oysters in Maine and across the Northeast.

Quahog aquaculture isn’t yet commonly practiced in Maine. But it’s a lucrative and growing industry in Massachusetts, with a value estimated at $1.36 million in 2016, according to the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries.

McMahan’s team includes Ethel Wilkerson of Manomet, Inc.; UMaine alum Caitlin Cleaver of FB Environmental and Jordan Kramer of Winnegance Oyster Farm. Maine Sea Grant is a partner.

Maine Sea Grant and Maine scientists also will collaborate on two other advanced collaborative projects — one led by Maryland Sea Grant and another led by Connecticut Sea Grant.

Yonathan Zohar of the University of Maryland Baltimore County is leading the $1,198,466 project to build capacity of land-based Atlantic salmon aquaculture in the U.S.

The recent exponential growth in established or planned land-based recirculating Atlantic salmon production is associated with more than $1 billion investment into the sector.

Zohar will establish a coordinated national effort to review and identify challenges and bottlenecks, and develop a road map and comprehensive strategic plan to address and overcome them.

Zydlewski will serve on the Sea Grant Leadership Team with Maryland Sea Grant director Frederika Moser and Wisconsin Sea Grant director James Hurley. Bouchard of UMaine, Brian Peterson of the USDA National Cold Water Marine Aquaculture Center, Chris Bartlett of Maine Sea Grant Extension, and Bill Keleher of Kennebec River Biosciences are Maine collaborators. Whole Oceans Maine Sustainable Salmon is a Maine-affiliated partner.

Anoushka Concepcion of Connecticut Sea Grant is leading the $1,085,131 project to nurture the growth of a domestic seaweed aquaculture industry by identifying and removing barriers and promoting opportunities.

Concepcion will form a National Sea Grant Seaweed Hub as a central clearinghouse for science-based, nonproprietary, practical resources related to seaweed aquaculture research and extension efforts. The hub will provide stakeholders with information to make better-informed decisions.

Jaclyn Robidoux of Maine Sea Grant is a collaborator and Maine Sea Grant is a partner.

Jonathan Pennock, director of the National Sea Grant College Program, said these 2019 investments will build on other Sea Grant and NOAA investments to address gaps in information, understanding and connectivity of science to industry.

“These investments are critical to advancing U.S. aquaculture in sustainable, thoughtful ways using the best science and talent across the country.”

The NOAA National Sea Grant Program release can be read here.

Contact: Gayle Zydlewski,, 207.581.1435