Maine Takes a Lesson from Japan in Scallop Farming

Katherine Walla

Photo courtesy of Christen Graham.

Coastal Enterprises Inc. (CEI) in Brunswick, Maine recently purchased three scallop aquaculture machines to test scallop farming techniques never before used in the United States. Along with a US$300,000 research grant from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) – a nonprofit established in the 2014 Farm Bill – CEI aims to establish a new economic market for farmed scallops on the Atlantic Coast.

Two farming companies, Bangs Island Mussel and Pine Point Oyster, will test the equipment during the three year research period to help automate their labor-intensive farming practices.

The machinery, produced by Japanese firm Mutsu Kaden Tokki Co., drills small holes in the hinge of a scallop shell so farmers can evenly hang them from ropes suspended vertically in water. Spacing scallops out on the ropes allows them to grow in uncrowded conditions and access nutrients easily. With this machinery, Japanese scallops typically grow faster, yield more meat, and experience a lower mortality rate over the two to three year farming cycle. In Japan, farmers work less intensively while producing more with the machinery.

“As climate change re-orders our fisheries, this endeavor is one way to diversify species and create new economic opportunity for those who make their livelihoods from the sea,” says Christen Graham, Founder and President of Giving Strong, a consulting firm. Giving Strong advises CEI on creating social impact through improved scallop farming.

While the Mutsu Kaden Tokki Co. machinery successfully automated scallop farming in Japan, there is no guarantee the machinery will succeed in Maine’s coastal waters. Partners with CEI must determine how they can modify the machinery to best process Maine scallops, which are more fragile than Japanese scallops.

Since Maine’s scallop fishery collapse in the mid-2000s—as a result of overcrowding scallops, unstable prices, and fatigued workers—fishers have implemented various restrictions on wild scallop fishery including rotating closures. Maine imports scallops from New Jersey, Canada, China, and elsewhere to fulfill increasing U.S. demand.

As a lender and investor specializing in rural business development, CEI hopes to create jobs, environmentally stable practices, and prosperity for companies such as Bangs Island Mussel and Pine Point Oyster. CEI equips scallop aquaculture fishers with innovative farming methods to contribute more supply to this increasing demand.

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