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Road Map to Maine's Seafood Future Released This Month

For anyone running their own business, it takes a lot of effort to peer up from day-to-day concerns and take a look around at the wider world. Those involved in Maine’s expanding aquaculture sector or those working at sea fishing for lobster, scallops, and other commercial species might not think that they have anything in common.

But that commonality is exactly what SEAMaine (Seafood Economic Accelerator Maine) highlights. “The goal is to make connections among all the arms of Maine’s seafood industry, to find areas where we all share common ground,” explained Sara Rademaker, founder and president of American Unagi in Waldoboro and SEAMaine co-chair. SEAMaine is funded by a 2020 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration with additional funding from the Maine Technology Institute and FocusMaine.

According to a SEAMaine report, Maine’s seafood sector contributed over $3.2 billion in total economic output to the Maine economy in 2019. Retail seafood ($692 million), lobster harvesting ($511 million), and seafood processing ($343 million) were the largest industries contributing to total economic output. Maine’s seafood businesses supported over 33,300 jobs statewide in 2019. Harvesting, including lobster, non-lobster species, and aquaculture, is the largest employing segment of the seafood sector, supporting over 12,700 jobs, followed by retail seafood outlets, including restaurants (8,550).

Seafood is clearly an important element in Maine’s economic landscape, but a very diverse one. Links among businesses seemed few and far between.

“We had been meeting together earlier to discuss ways that we could do better together,” Keri Kaczor, Maine Sea Grant Environmental Literacy and Workforce Development program leader and co-chair of SEAMaine workforce development subcommittee. “It was fireworks, there are so many brilliant innovative people who want to share their experiences and knowledge.”

With the EDA funding, the loose group organized itself around a specific goal: to devise a road map for Maine’s seafood industry designed to help the sector thrive in a future full of economic and environmental uncertainties.

The connection between those who catch marine species in the wild and aquaculturists who farm marine species was not always clear. “Fishermen have a concern for stability and economic viability as the environment or economy changes,” Rademaker noted. “Aquaculturists try to control and to manage things.” And yet the two facets of Maine’s seafood industry found that they share common issues, such as having adequate cold storage capacity in the state or having modern transportation systems in place to move their products to market. “The seafood industry in Maine is broad and this work has done a good job of opening lines of communication. There are common areas that will help all of us.”

The first thing SEAMaine set out to do was to organize itself into five subcommittees and begin collecting data. “The question we asked was ‘what do we all need?’” Rademaker said. There was a lot of ground to cover: workforce needs, market opportunities, transportation issues, economic projections, and more. For the next three years during the Covid pandemic, SEAMaine produced a series of reports that describe Maine’s current seafood industry, its economic impact, and its future opportunities and obstacles.

While gathering reams of data, SEAMaine also started a mini-grant program for already existing seafood businesses and organizations. Maine Maritime Academy, for instance, received funds toward developing a Mariculture training certificate, specifically creation of training modules for the Academy’s Center for Professional Mariner Development in Bucksport. The SEAMaine workforce development subcommittee created online toolboxes and videos for businesses to assist them in bringing new people into the state’s seafood industry. “We wanted to change the narrative about seafood and seafood processing,” Kaczor said. “Processing, for example, involves new technologies. There’re opportunities for different training pathways and career advancement.”

On January 17 at Atlantic Sea Farms in Biddeford, SEAMaine will release its Road Map for the Maine Seafood Industry. The Road Map will lay out steps that private businesses and public agencies can take to improve workforce development, economic growth, and resiliency within the seafood sector. Its creators see the Road Map as a document available to all describing what the Maine seafood sector is today and what it could be in the future.

“It’s been a big ambitious endeavor. There’s a whole lot of value to the seafood industry through the connections that have been made in this process. It demonstrates the shared values of the industry,” said Rademaker.

“Anyone can point to it and reference it to support their own initiatives,” Kaczor said. “I’m really excited about making it a reality.” CLICK HERE for more information and to read SEAMaine’s reports.


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