Aquaculture, despite being a growing and environmentally conscious industry, has had mixed community support in the state of Maine over the past few years. Members of the School of Marine Science at the University of Maine, master’s student Melissa Britsch, professor Heather Leslie and professor Joshua Stoll, conducted a social study to survey these diverse opinions from the Maine community. The research team, in order to find a common ground where aquaculture policy can be built from, recently published their findings in Marine Policy, a scientific journal whose main goal is to educate its readers on the most recent developments in marine policy, ranging from the international to regional level.
Aquaculture is the process of propagating and then harvesting different native fish species in an effort to revitalize their habitats and populations, and it has had a long history on the coasts of Maine. The benefits range from having more economic promise than commercial fishing to bolstering biological potential.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t cons to this risky venture, and many individuals, specifically in coastal Maine communities, are wary of it. In recent years, there has been widespread opposition to some aquaculture projects, but the research team discovered that overall support for aquaculture is, surprisingly, in the majority. While most people support the idea, many still have some fears, specifically when it comes to socioeconomic impacts on coastal communities and displacement of commercial fishermen, whose livelihood is tied to the Maine coast.
All of these concerns are valid, and the results of this study, which is only one of a relatively few social surveys that has been done on the public opinion on aquaculture will be instrumental in the planning and implementation of marine policy in Maine in the years to come.
Britsch, a recent dual master’s recipient in marine biology and marine policy at Maine, conducted this research through an interview process, with individuals who have worked in or are familiar with Maine’s aquaculture industry. The subjects were asked to rank statements, taken from published views about aquaculture, by how much they either agreed or disagreed. Britsch, as a part of her graduate research, wanted to look into aquaculture specifically because of the sustainability aspect, and while the findings didn’t necessarily find a complete common ground between the opinions of the community, it did find places where there was room to grow.
The findings from these interviews placed the subjects into four distinct groups: full supporters, who think there are no cons to the implementation of aquaculture fisheries in Maine; those who are supporters of the economic benefits, but are worried about environmental impacts like waste pollution; those who are slow to support because of the potential socioeconomic impacts to coastal communities and those who who are wary due to fears surrounding lack of space for both commercial fishermen and these new aquaculture fisheries. These diverse views surrounding this policy will be used in the future to make sure that, not only the community’s fears are met and managed, but also the environmental ones as well.