Two Maine workforce development groups are launching a hands-on aquaculture internship program to help the rapidly growing aquatic farming industry fill what participants say is an immediate need for talent.

The Aquaculture Pioneers Program, a pilot program of FocusMaine and Educate Maine, will connect aquaculture businesses with industry hopefuls looking for hands-on experience while helping the businesses build a pipeline for new talent.

The paid internships will build on principles and practices of long-term stewardship of Maine’s ocean resources, and will introduce students to industry standards for sustainability and ocean conservation, according to a news release issued Thursday.

The program will initially target students from Maine’s community colleges, starting with Washington County Community College, and will aim to increase diversity and equity in the sector, it said.

Chris Davis, executive director of the Maine Aquaculture Innovation Center, said that as aquaculture has grown, the demographics along the coast have started to change.

“A lot of young people are interested in aquaculture,” he said. “Most of us want to see the working waterfronts thriving. Intern programs are a great avenue for new entrants to the industry to get a toehold in a real (working) environment.”


Kim Hamilton, executive director of FocusMaine, said aquaculture is a “gateway” to quality jobs for state residents. As the industry continues to mature, Maine is well positioned to take advantage of that growth, she said.

The internship program will help usher in the next generation of industry leaders, Hamilton said.

The program will launch later this spring with roughly a dozen students. Next year there will be 20. Hamilton said organizers haven’t yet selected which businesses they will partner with, but they have begun the recruitment process.

According to a recent report by the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, the state’s aquaculture industry employed about 622 people in 2020. Just two years later, that number is estimated to be closer to 880 people employed in production and over 1,600 across the supply chain. By 2030, it’s likely to exceed 1,000 in direct employment, and 2,000 in supply chain and all related retail, processing and food production jobs.

The report also notes that one of the biggest barriers to recruitment and retention is the “lack of clear and well-communicated career progression opportunities.”

According to Hamilton, the Aquaculture Pioneers Program is part of a solution to that problem.

It’s expected to complement another program being developed at Washington County Community College that seeks to train the next generation of Maine aquaculturists. The multidiscipline training program will launch in the fall.

Officials are currently developing a set of competency standards for the industry, which will be used in that program. Students will graduate with either a workforce training certificate or an associate’s degree.

The new internship program is funded through a $382,500 grant from the Builders Initiative, an investment agency focused on sustainable and environmentally impactful endeavors.

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