Emily Selinger, left, and Amanda Moeser out on the water in Casco Bay. A new film from the Maine Aquaculture Association is featuring both oyster farmers. Contributed / Maine Aquaculture Association

The Maine Aquaculture Association is featuring two oyster farmers who are based in the waters off Freeport and Yarmouth in a new series of documentary films geared toward promoting seafood farming in the state.

The film is part of a series of videos titled “Maine Coast Harvest” that the Hallowell-based association first began producing in 2018, according to Afton Hupper, outreach and development specialist at the Association. The series, she said, highlights the work of farmers statewide.

“This is a great form of advocacy for them,” she said.

The films were created and funded by ZFund and produced by GoodFight Media with production support from the association. The new series, which debuted online Jan. 29, includes three new films recorded in summer and fall 2020. One of the films features Emily Selinger and Amanda Moeser, oyster farmers who operate in Casco Bay — Selinger in Freeport and Moeser in Yarmouth. The other two films are based in Machias and Port Clyde.

Hupper said the films are already getting attention, with the entire new series already garnering more than 24,000 total views. The film featuring Selinger and Moeser, Hupper said, has been viewed nearly 3,000 times.

“It’s been really exciting to see the positive feedback,” she said.

Moeser, 37, started oyster farming about five years ago. An academic and lover of the water in general, she has worked as a research assistant studying aquatic food ecology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Moeser also worked at Bangs Island Mussels in Portland, where she processed oysters onshore.

The desire to be her own boss and the sea itself, she said, was what led her to try oyster farming.

“I really wanted to be on the water,” she said.

A still image from a new film by the Maine Aquaculture Association featuring two local oyster farmers. Contributed / Maine Aquaculture Association

Selinger, 30, got started around the same time as Moeser. She, too, has a love of the sea, having worked on the crews of large sailing vessels such as schooners, but the nomadic lifestyle took a toll.

“It kind of required me to be on the move, living on the boats,” she said.

Selinger said she also worked on lobster boat crews, and met Moeser through a family member. A trip out to see Moeser’s farm about five years ago was all it took to get her started.

“I just felt kind of captivated by it from then on,” Selinger said.

Both farmers noted the low startup costs, and neither have had much trouble finding customers. Moeser said she primarily sells to dealers and distributors, preferring smaller operations such as Clam Hunter Seafood in Phippsburg.

“I really love their family operations,” she said.

Many of those distributors sell to restaurants, and Moeser acknowledged that when the pandemic struck in 2020, business “was almost an absolute standstill beginning in March.”

But Moser said she works and sells through the winter, unlike a lot of other producers, which kept her afloat.

Selinger said the pandemic didn’t hurt her at all. She sold 60,000 oysters in 2020, the most she’s ever sold. It helped that she began selling in farmers markets starting in the spring of 2020, in Bath during the summer and in Portland year-round.

“That was a big piece,” she said.

Aqauaculture in Maine appears to be expanding. Hupper said the Maine Department of Marine Resources indicates new applications for aquaculture permits statewide are on the rise, with 42 in 2020, compared to only 13 in 2015. Hupper noted that the footprint of leases remains relatively low at approximately 1,600 total acres statewide.

“The industry is growing very rapidly,” Hupper said, “and aquaculture is really hot lately.”

Hupper said public perceptions need to evolve along with the industry. Right now, she said, images of fishing boats in Maine waters are an iconic and romantic image that everyone, tourists and locals alike, can identify with.

“Aquaculture isn’t always seen in that light,” she said. “It’s new, not a lot of people understand it.”

Hupper said she hopes the series, which now focuses on oyster and seaweed farming, will continue in years to come to put a spotlight on seafood farming in Maine.

“Putting a human face on people who produce seafood is rarely done,” she said.

The series is available now for free. Visit mainecoastharvest.com to learn more.

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