Dozens of Maine oyster, mussel and kelp farmers attended a Maine Aquaculture Association social Jan. 11 at Maine Beer Co. in Freeport for a couple hours of networking, beer and shuck-your-own oysters.

The nonprofit Maine Aquaculture Association, established in 1978, is the nation’s oldest trade association of its kind. “But look at the average age of people here,” said Executive Director Sebastian Belle. “They’re young.”

“Aquaculture is aligned with this generation’s values,” said Alex Shapiro from Steamboat Road Consulting in Portland. “Kelp is the most transformative crop of a lifetime. This is change-the-world type of stuff. This generation appreciates that, and Maine has the natural resources and working waterfront affiliations and skill sets that lend themselves to aquaculture.”

“The new aquaculture industry is mostly young people,” said Matt Moretti of Bangs Island Mussels. “We feel like we’re doing something great for the planet.” Because mussels and oysters filter ocean water, he said, shellfish aquaculture is a way to make a living while making a difference.

One of the innovators in the industry and board members of Maine Aquaculture Association is Briana Warner, chief executive officer of Atlantic Sea Farms, a 2022 recipient of a Governor’s Award for Business Excellence. “We work with fishermen to diversify their market in the off season by farming kelp,” said Warner, whose Biddeford-based company recently launched a line of frozen Sea-Veggie Burgers.

Leslie Harlow, owner of Ironbound Restaurant in Hancock, said, “I live way Down East, and what we’re seeing is a handful of young men and women who have come back home to be oyster farmers, and they’re really into aquaculture.”

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Oyster farmers are increasingly in the majority at Maine Aquaculture Association events.
“Maine’s got the cleanest, clearest water and the right conditions,” said oyster grower Mike Sheehan of Mook Sea Farm in Damariscotta.

These association events are a place to talk with other growers about pressing issues – like sea stars, or starfish, which prey on oysters.

“I’m here to touch base other growers and talk with people about solutions,” said Hillevi Jaegerman, farm manager at Wolf Neck Oyster Co. in Casco Bay.

“We just love this industry,” said Anna Parker, who founded Sister Island Oysters in Freeport with lifelong friend Dana Wilfarht. “As young oyster farmers – we are two years in – this community has been so supportive and welcoming.”

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at [email protected]


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