Editor’s Note: The Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation Healthy Food Champion was chosen by the Foundation, in conjunction with the Source Awards judges.

If you have a question about cultivating, selling, or eating scallops, oysters, clams, mussels or seaweed of all types, Dana Morse will likely have an answer. Morse is a key figure in Maine’s growing aquaculture industry, which is built at the juncture of economic and environmental sustainability. Cultivation of sea creatures diversifies opportunities and expands the season of commercial fishing operations, big and small, while techniques like the ones Morse studies and teaches anticipate long-term impact on the environment—for example, rope-hung scallops can be harvested without damaging the sea bed, an issue that led to the industry’s bottoming out in 2004.

Since 1998, Morse has worked as an associate with the Marine Extension Team at the University of Maine’s Darling Marine Center in Walpole, where he is an organizer, a teacher, a student, a marketer and a plain old hard worker. He created the Maine Oyster Trail, which debuted in 2011 to promote Maine’s now $5 million industry; the Oyster Trail encourages Mainers and others to visit oyster farmers up and down the coast to see their industry firsthand. Morse travels Maine’s 3,500-mile long coast himself, bringing new technologies, training and support to new shellfish producers; and he develops and runs workshops and seminars for the professional development of established producers.

“To be perfectly honest, scallop culture [in Maine] would not be where it is without Dana’s determination and ability to work with fishermen and find solutions to the many challenges along the way,” said Marsden Brewer, a commercial fisherman and farmer.

Since 2013, Morse has been the lead coordinator for the Aquaculture in Shared Waters program, providing comprehensive aquaculture training, technical and business support, and networking assistance to fishermen and members of fishing families from Harpswell to Machias. The program brings together graduate students, working fishermen and entrepreneurs for classroom and field-based projects. His colleague, Catherine Schmitt, who nominated him for a Source Sustainability Award, says that in the last two years, participants in the program have created 13 new aquaculture businesses in the state.

Schmitt’s nomination focused on Morse’s expertise, extensive network and commitment to lifelong learning and teaching. He’s a dedicated academic, currently studying growth rates, biotoxin accumulation rates, and yield and market value of ear-hung scallops with yet another grant he has secured for the state’s aquaculture community.

His students are equally enthusiastic. “Dana is a phenomenal teacher,” said Melissa Britsch, a former aquaculture intern at the Darling Marine Center who now works for Maine Shellfish Developers, an aquaculture start-up based at the center. “It’s impossible not to get excited about aquaculture around him.”

Last year, Morse was part of a team that secured $1.5 million from the U.S. Commerce Department to upgrade and expand the Darling Marine Center. With health and sustainably champions like Dana Morse  behind it, aquaculture has a clear future as part of Maine’s historic fishing industry.


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