January 2022

By Ramona du Houx

The Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland is planning an aquaculture workforce training system with the help of a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

A major study showed that Maine’s increasingly diversified aquaculture industry is a growing source of potential jobs. The new initiative follows an aquaculture workforce training pilot program that received a $500,000 grant last April from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, developed by the Maine Aquaculture Innovation Center in Walpole in partnership with Washington County Community College.

“Maine’s aquaculture industry is vital to our state’s economy but needs a skilled workforce to continue to grow and innovate. The Gulf of Maine Research Institute has developed a forward-thinking solution. This comprehensive, collaborative training program will train aquaculturists with in-demand knowledge and skills, helping students to secure good jobs and supporting the workforce needs of this important sector,” said Congresswoman Pingree. “As a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, I have long worked to secure funding for these NIFA grants, which have helped to launch many careers in the nation’s food and agriculture sector. This substantial NIFA award will help ensure Maine’s aquaculture industry reaches its full potential now and in the future.”

Gulf of Maine Institute, Portland, Maine.

The Gulf of Maine Research Institute has designed a collaborative program aimed at training aquaculture specialists, helping students to secure jobs and supporting workforce needs. 

Aquaculture is a growth sector in Maine, identified by FocusMaine.

According to a Maine Aquaculture Workforce Development Strategy report issued in 2020 by the Gulf of Maine Research Institute Maine’s aquaculture workforce currently exceeds 600 direct employees, plus auxiliary services and supported trades. For 2022, the workforce is projected to include 880 employees across production and related activities, and over 1,600 across the supply chain.


• Help the institute develop and pilot the Maine Department of Labor’s Aquaculture Apprenticeship Program where participants are expected to gain experience, receive mentoring, get trained and tested on defined occupational competencies, and learn to use cutting-edge technology at commercial shellfish and sea vegetable farms.

• Develop and administer a series of stackable, credentialed aquaculture short courses at Southern Maine Community College that form the basis of an aquaculture certificate.

• Update the Maine Aquaculture Occupational Standards for Shellfish and Sea Vegetables, Recirculating Aquaculture Systems, and Marine Finfish to ensure that aquaculture workforce training remains relevant to Maine’s rapidly evolving and growing industry.

• Coordinate program development and delivery between Southern Maine Community College, Washington County Community College, Mid-Coast School of Technology (K-9 Career Technical Education High School), and the Maine Department of Labor Aquaculture Apprenticeship Program to establish matriculation pathways and dual-credit programs that enable fast-tracked degree completion. 

The programming developed will have the potential to be expanded to other community colleges in Maine and throughout the Northeast. Students graduate with a workforce training certificate or an associate degree.