Farming the Sea- Part One

ME (WABI)- Generations of Mainers have made a living off fishing the cold waters of our state.

Now, Maine is becoming known world wide for its fish farmers.

Aquaculture has been around in Maine for more than a century with salmon and even cod fish hatcheries.

Now, the coast is providing a vast diversity of farmed marine species and getting the attention of those that traditionally fished the sea.

Joy Hollowell has part one of a special report on Farming the Sea.
"I lobster fished for 38, 39 years," says Joe Young.

For six generations, Young's family has fished the sea off the coast of Corea.

"It started out years ago as cod fishing and then went to lobstering," he says.

But Young turns 65 in January, and admits the physical demands of this trade are starting to show.

"It's strenuous work," says Young. "And to maintain that level as we get older, people do it, but it takes more of a toll."

A few years back, the University of Maine offered a course to lobstermen on aquaculture.

"I knew very little about it," admits Young, "but I took the course."

Today, Young spends his time farming oysters and kelp in a bay near his home.

"And you sort of turn it, shake it and put it back in," Young explains as he flips an oyster condo and places it back in the holder.

Young says he produced about 40,000 small oysters at the last harvest. They should be market size in about two and a half years.

Young serves the farmed raised oysters at his wharf side cafe.

"They were a big hit.," says Young. "I didn't realize how many people eat oysters. They are delicious. (laughs) I never thought I would eat an oyster. But I gotta say, they are very good."

Young still considers himself a lobster fisherman first, but he's excited about his future as a marine farmer.

"It's sort of a leap to try something like this," says Young, "but I'm glad I did."

"I like this being my office," says Evan Young as he heads out on Blue Hill Bay.

Young is going on his 19th year as owner of Blue Hill Bay Mussels.

"We're a rope growing mussel farm."

When he first started, Young had one boat and one raft.

"We're now into a 20-foot wide, 55-foot long boat," says Young. "And we have six rafts as well as the salt pond for the seed source."

He grabs a pile of shellfish.

"These mussels are three and a half to four months old," Young explains. "We're going to put them on these ropes, they're going to stay in here for another 8-10 months, and then we'll start harvesting."

Young shells out about 140,000 pounds of mussels at market time.

"My markets can handle more than I can grow right now," says Young.

Most of his customers are currently out of state, something Young hopes to change. He says mussels grown on ropes taste and look better.

"There's not grit and the mats are three to four times bigger than a wild mussel just because they're in the water column where they're getting fed all the time," Young explains.

Like all farmers, Mother Nature is the one variable Young can't control.

Still, he sees aquaculture as a viable business for anyone craving a career off the coast.

"It's something good for people to get into and still work on the water."
Last year, Maine's aquaculture harvest was valued at more than $82.5 million, according to the Maine Department of Marine Resources.

In part two of Joy's special report, hear what the University of Maine is doing to encourage future sea farmers as well as federal efforts to sustain the largest salmon farm in Maine.