Sowing the Seeds to Educate and Train the Next Generation of Maine’s Aquaculture Workforce
Lori Tyler Gula, National Institute of Food and Agriculture
MAINE – Maine community college students now can enroll in a workforce training program for the aquaculture sector, thanks to the Aquaculture Vocational Education and Training (VET) pathways program developed by the Maine Aquaculture Innovation Center at Washington County Community College thanks to funding from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
The program aims to meet the growing need for tech-savvy skilled workers in four of the largest aquaculture subsets: land-based recirculating aquaculture; marine fin-fish aquaculture; cold-water coastal shellfish aquaculture; and marine macroalgae aquaculture. Students will graduate with either a workforce training certificate or an associate’s degree.
“By providing coastal communities the knowledge to farm the sea, we can simultaneously support the sustainable expansion of marine aquaculture (farmed seafood), reduce the U.S. seafood trade deficit, improve U.S. food security, increase the resilience of coastal communities, and maintain coastal cultural and economic traditions associated with the working waterfront,” said Maine Aquaculture Innovation Center Project Manager Dr. Anne Langston Noll.
Since 2007, the total economic impact of aquaculture in Maine has almost tripled from $50 million to $137 million. In 2016, the industry employed 571 people with most aquaculture production-focused jobs being full-time, year-round positions. As of 2022, Maine has 152 aquaculture farms, with 67 with pending lease applications, Langston Noll said. “All of these farms require employees. Employees require training.”
The state’s aquaculture industry employed about 622 people in 2020. By 2030, it’s likely to exceed 1,000 in direct employment, and 2,000 including the supply chain and downstream markets, according to a report published by the Gulf of Maine Research Institute.
“As the numbers of commercial fishermen decline, working waterfronts and the supporting infrastructure are also declining,” Langston Noll said. “Coastal communities whose culture and societies were traditionally centered on the ocean and the commercial exploitation of its resources are experiencing fundamental sociological change.
“Young people are finding it increasingly difficult to enter fisheries, and families who have fished for generations are abandoning their maritime heritage out of necessity. With their opportunities in wild harvest fisheries increasingly limited, more fishermen are becoming curious and open to learning how to farm marine animals and plants to diversify their economic options.”
The community college aquaculture program launched its second class in late January. Students hail from across the state, and include adult learners, students directly from high school, individuals who are justice involved (both incarcerated and in communities) and individuals in recovery. This year the project team will pilot the aquaculture program at other Maine community colleges.
“Together with our education colleagues across the state, we are raising awareness of aquaculture and seafood as a career path,” Langston Noll said. “We are working with colleagues to connect our vocational training to apprenticeship and internship programs. These programs all contribute to aquaculture becoming a key component of a resilient, sustainable seafood sector in Maine, that supports resilient coastal communities.”
Additional information about this research will be presented at a NIFA education session at Aquaculture America 2023 Feb. 23-26 in New Orleans. NIFA national program leader Dr. Tim Sullivan, who provides leadership for programs in aquaculture, animal health and biotechnology, will moderate a session highlighting the breadth and impact of NIFA-funded aquaculture research and outreach.
Learn more about our Discover Careers in Aquaculture Workforce Training HERE.