Entrance of Large-Scale Fisheries and Aquatic Farms Could Hamper Maine Aquaculture Industry

GOULDSBORO, MAINE—IT’S nursery season at Springtide Seaweed, Maine‘s largest seaweed farm. Sarah Redmond, Springtide’s founder and lead operator, is cultivating microscopic kelp spores at its saltwater facility here, just across Frenchman’s Bay from Acadia National Park. Each day, Redmond checks the progress of the tiny plants, which have taken root on strands of ordinary string wrapped around PVC piping and submerged in one of several large, saltwater tanks. Later this month, once the kelp seedlings have reached a length of about 2 millimeters, Redmond will transfer them to lengths of submerged lines in the Gulf of Maine.

Aquaculture – the cultivation of fish and aquatic plants for food – is a $1.5 billion industry nationwide. That includes both freshwater catfish and tilapia farms as well as marine or saltwater operations like Springtide. Maine’s abundance of clean water, its long history of working waterfronts, and its proximity to markets such as Boston and New York have made it one of the leaders in marine aquaculture production, rivaling Alaska and Florida.

The rise of small-scale, artisan operations like Springtide promises to continue that trend. So too does a trend toward large-scale, land-based operations, which have traditional seafood farmers and some residents of coastal towns wondering if this spike in the industry could damage some of the state’s most valued coastal ecosystems.

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