SEANET announces grants for Down East aquaculture research

MACHIAS, Maine — Maine EPSCoR’s Sustainable Ecological Aquaculture Network (SEANET) is funding two projects in Washington County to better understand the effects of environmental change and management policies on soft-shell clams and Atlantic sea scallops.

Sustainable aquaculture presents opportunities for economic development and growth in Down East Maine’s coastal communities.

“As interest in this industry continues to grow, critical research investments must be made to ensure the sector’s long-term sustainability,” says Meggan Dwyer, research coordinator for SEANET.

Survival rates for soft-shell clam seeds have fallen dramatically in recent years, possibly due to many factors, including acidification in Maine’s coastal waters, and the increased presence of invasive predators, such as green crabs, whose population has exploded along Maine’s coast.

Researchers at the University of Maine at Machias, led by Brian Beal and William Otto, have received a $12,000 award from EPSCOR’s 2018 Mini-Grant Program to investigate the effects of pH levels and predator endangerment on the survival rates of juvenile soft-shell clams, Mya arenaria.

Beal and Otto will examine the roles that water chemistry and predation have on diminished clam landings. Their findings will help establish mechanisms to combat the most-critical threats and increase success rates for the commercial production of soft-shell clams.

In addition, Brian Preziosi and Timothy Bowden will lead research at UMaine that examines hatchery culture methods for Atlantic sea scallops, Placopecten magellanicus. A $12,000 SEANET Mini-Grant award will support their work to increase annual spat production to improve the stability of this fledgling aquaculture sector.

Despite strong consumer demand for wild scallops, wild harvesters face shrinking state and federal management quotas. Researchers recognize this gap as an opportunity for Washington County, an area with a longstanding tradition of scallop fishing, with ideal conditions for sea scallop culture.

As Maine’s coastal environments continue to change, Preziosi believes developing alternative sources of juvenile scallops for aquaculture farmers will help stabilize and expand annual production of sea scallops and other commercially important bivalves, leading to job opportunities in the area.

“The goal of SEANET’s mini-grant program is to respond rapidly to aquaculture R&D needs in the state,” says Deborah Bouchard, director of UMaine’s Aquaculture Research Institute and SEANET Research Network director.

“These two projects will address the unique needs of the Down East region in synthesis with the environmental data collected through SEANET’s buoy and sampling system that has been deployed in the region.”

In addition to this research, SEANET personnel in Washington County are supporting marine STEM sciences through local education and outreach activities.

By creating sustainable aquaculture infrastructure, expertise and collaborations, SEANET aims to establish a lasting network of researchers whose goal is to inform regulators, investors, aquaculturists, and the public on the best available science in sustainable aquaculture.