About a decade after Maine’s salmon-farming industry tanked, the aquaculture industry is continuing to rebound and has become more diverse than it was when it consisted solely of Atlantic salmon.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said last week that the state’s salmon-heavy aquaculture industry is second in Maine only to lobster in terms of the fishery’s total value.
According to NOAA Fisheries, Maine’s aquaculture had a value last year of $81 million, said spokeswoman Maggie Mooney-Seus. That’s more than double the $38 million value of elvers. Of course, both pale in comparison to Maine’s lobster catch, valued last year at a record $341 million.
Sebastian Belle from the Maine Aquaculture Association said the industry is in better shape now than before the crash because of new salmon aquaculture practices and a greater variety of aquaculture offerings, with shellfish now accounting for roughly 20 percent of the value of the catch and freshwater trout now being raised in Maine.
Furthermore, there’s been an influx into the industry of younger people — most of them displaced commercial fishermen.
“The salmon industry is very different than it was then,” Belle said.
Around 2000, the salmon industry was bustling with 1,200 workers. But it came crashing down in a matter of a few years with fish disease, the pullout of companies using Norwegian strains of salmon following an endangered species listing for wild salmon, and a federal judge’s ruling that several salmon operations violated the Clean Water Act.
Maine’s industry dipped to a couple of hundred workers.
New Brunswick-based Cooke Aquaculture came into the state and reopened salmon pens with new practices to control pests and disease.
Meanwhile, Maine’s shellfish aquaculture, mostly oysters and mussels, has been growing at a pace of 8 percent to 10 percent per year for the past decade, Belle said.
The annual value ranges from about $80 million to $120 million a year, he said. Across the Northeast, aquaculture production generates about $161 million in annual revenue, NOAA Fisheries said.