Mere Point Oyster Co.’s Derek Devereaux dumps a tote of oysters for sizing in August. John Ewing/Portland Press Herald

BRUNSWICK — Maine Technology Institute is hoping that a new $2 million federal grant will help the company create a roadmap to strengthen and diversify Maine’s marine economy, build the workforce and improve its resilience against natural disasters. 

The total funding, awarded to Brunswick-based Maine Technology Institute and FocusMaine in Augusta, is for $2.5 million over the next three years. It includes the $2 million Economic Development Administration grant, plus a matching $500,000 from project partners, including Maine Technology Institute, FocusMaine, and the Maine Aquaculture Innovation Center, among others.  

The long-term goal, according to Maine Technology Institute, is to “achieve the shared goal of a vibrant, innovative and resilient marine economy that sustains and grows quality jobs and industries in Maine.” 

It will also work toward “transitioning our heritage seafood economy into a modern engine for sustainable economic job growth,” officials said. The initiative is modeled after the state timber industry’s collaborative effort called Forest Opportunity Roadmap/Maine.

The timing for a project designed to increase economic resilience could not have been better, Brian Whitney, president of Maine Technology Institute said Wednesday. 

As health and economic hardships begin to ramp up in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, many in the marine industry are already hurting, he said, whether from the supply chain breakdown, processing issues or other factors, and the current situation is exacerbating problems that already exist. 

“The timing is really good for this initiative,” Whitney said. “I think it’ll make the project that much more critical.” 

The roadmap will focus on creating targets for economic growth and measuring the impact, determining current and future workforce needs and a plan to sustain and grow that workforce, creating opportunities for business expansion and innovation to increase commercialization, business development and further job creation. 

The workforce development and the industry diversification are two of the biggest pieces in the project, Whitney said. 

The marine industry employed over 15,500 workers in 2016, according to the release, and most of those roles were fishermen and related shoreside workers, followed by occupations within the supply chain such as processing and transportation. 

But the state is also experiencing a skilled labor shortage. 

Whitney said he hopes to use the road map to help “match the talent with the opportunities,” perhaps by building training modules and developing workforce curriculum, expanding apprenticeship opportunities and working with community and technical colleges. 

Lobster remains Maine’s predominant and most well-known export — Maine lobster landings were valued at $484 million in 2018— but the state’s marine economy continues to diversify, particularly with the burgeoning aquaculture industry, which in 2017 brought in 2.8 million pounds of oysters and had an estimated  $13.6 million economic impact. There’s a lot more opportunity for diversification, Whitney said, and a lot of potential that hasn’t been unlocked. 

They will develop “strategies to match Maine’s marine-related products with global markets and develop strategies to attract investment in new markets” as well as “identify new opportunities and barriers to value added production and will seek ways to maximize efficiencies and returns across the seafood value chain,” according to a press release from both organizations. 

This, according to Patrick Keliher, commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources, targets critical areas of need in the state’s marine economy.  

“Workforce and market development are key for the stability and growth of our state’s fishing and aquaculture industries,” he said in a statement, adding that improvement in supply chain efficiencies are also vital for efforts to innovate and add value. 

The effort will be chaired by Bill Mook of Mook Sea Farms in Walpole and Curt Brown, a marine biologist at Ready Seafood in Portland and Whitney said Maine Technology Institute is currently seeking a project manager.

“Maine’s marine economy is an engine that has powered our state for generations and we are committed to supporting its continued success,” Sens. Susan Collins, Angus King and Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden said in a joint statement. “Building on our traditions of the past, industry leaders are working to create new, sustainable opportunities that will maximize the benefits of our vast marine resources. This funding … will support those industry-led efforts to foster innovation and adaptability, and improve current and future workforce needs, which are needed now more than ever to help this vital sector weather the coronavirus pandemic and future challenges.”


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