By Steve Genovese 

The Gulf of Maine is one of the most prolific marine habitats on the planet, providing food, transportation, and job opportunities for so many of the state’s residents. Earning a living from the ocean has long been a way of life in Maine. Some marine life is fished or gathered before being sold. Some is farmed – this is called aquaculture. 

Aquaculture and marine harvest 

  So what exactly is aquaculture? And why is it so important? 

  Aquaculture is the farming of marine plants and animals using techniques such as line growing or large nets or pens in the open ocean. Maine has a long history with aquaculture, too! In the 1870s, the state opened the Craig Brook Fish Hatchery, near Bangor, which specialized in Atlantic Salmon conservation. Craig Brook became a national fish hatchery in 1889, and throughout its 150-year history has helped Maine to remain a steadfast producer of seafoods, with programs improving lobster, salmon, oysters, scallops, and other marine species. 

  Today, aquaculture in Maine is a multi-million dollar industry employing more than 650 individuals and with an annual harvest value of roughly $85-105 million per year (variable with annual harvest amounts). Maine is the largest producer of kelp seaweed in the United States, with more than double the annual harvest of Alaska, the next-largest producer. Also, much of Maine’s aquaculture is produced and farmed by owner-operators or smallholder farmers, meaning that this economic impact largely stays here, benefitting our communities and families. 

  Aquaculture in Maine bolsters the state’s significant marine industry as an economic engine. Sustainably farmed Atlantic salmon and oysters, rope grown mussels, and kelp seaweed are a vital part of our diets and can all be found in supermarkets and restaurants throughout Maine. 

Aquaculture and the environment 

  Beyond the economic importance of aquaculture is its importance as an environmental tool combating climate change. 

  Aquaculture is clean, requiring very little human interaction. Shellfish and seaweeds are grown on ropes in the open ocean, making this type of harvest similar to farming leafy greens and root vegetables on land – but without the need to irrigate. In the same way that trees draw carbon from the atmosphere, aquaculture can actually benefit the environment by filtering the water and improving water quality.  

  Aquaculture may well help us through the challenge of climate change over the next century by creating environmentally conscious jobs and nutrient-dense, sustainably produced and harvested seafood. So, the next time you have the opportunity to try one of the state’s aquaculture products, please do! And together, we can create a brighter future filled with the best Maine aquaculture. 

Steve Genovese is an AmeriCorps/GPCOG Resilience Corps Fellow serving in the South Portland Sustainability Office through September 2023. He can be reached at [email protected].