Three Maine lobstermen and a former groundfisherman have become the first graduates of “Cod Academy,” aimed at teaching them the ins and outs of fish farming.

Since it started in January, the school has provided the four with classroom training and hands-on experience at a commercial fish farm off eastern Maine that raises cod. They were recognized Tuesday at a graduation ceremony at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Cold Water Marine Aquaculture Center in Franklin.

The goal is to give fishermen more opportunities to make their livelihoods off the water while diversifying the state’s aquaculture industry and preserving Maine’s working waterfronts, said Sebastian Belle, director of the Maine Aquaculture Association, who led the program. The graduates are now eligible for financial assistance from the association to start their own small-scale cod farms if they choose.

With most of the state’s commercial fisheries – other than lobster – struggling, it’s important to lay the groundwork for the next generation of fishermen, Belle said.

“As you look at the coastal towns of Maine, commercial fishing has reached a crisis,” he said. “There’s been little or no options for the next generation of commercial fishermen, aside from waiting for a commercial lobster license. What does a 19-year-old kid who’s graduated from high school, doesn’t want to go to college, wants to do what his mother or father did, what are their options? Their options are mowing lawns in the summer.”

The school was a collaborative venture of the Maine Aquaculture Association, Coastal Enterprises Inc., the University of Maine Aquaculture Institute and Great Bay Aquaculture, a Portsmouth, N.H.-based company that owns a cod farm in Maine’s Frenchman Bay.

Seed money was provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Belle expects to hold more academies in the future.

The first students took classes on subjects such as nutrition and feeding, animal behavior, financial management, site selection, permitting and marketing.

The class included a man from Cherryfield who is a lobsterman, urchin diver and elver fisherman; his father, who works on his lobster boat; and a lobsterman from Sullivan.

The fourth student was Sewall Maddocks, 50, of Boothbay Harbor, who for years was a fishing boat captain in Alaska and the Gulf of Maine. He now has a land-based job managing fishing boats for a company in Rockland.

Maddocks hasn’t decided if he will start his own cod farm, but he hasn’t ruled it out.

“I’ve been interested in aquaculture for a long time. It looks like it’s growing,” he said.