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Maine Aquaculture Association’s manual to guide producers through distribution challenge areas


March 2, 2022
By Aquaculture North America Staff

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Toni Small and her partner John Cotton working on their oyster farm in Port Clyde, Maine. Credit: Maine Aquaculture Association/GoodFight Media

Over the past few years, seafood consumption in the United States (U.S.) has seen an increase of 35 per cent to US$7 billion in 2020, in comparison to sales in 2019, according to market research company Information Resources, Inc. With this spike in demand, the Maine Aquaculture Association (MAA) saw a need for the newly-released Maine Aquaculture Distribution Mapping Manual.

The manual is a tool for sea farmers in the Maine aquaculture industry, which they can utilize to compare and contrast the current and potential distribution channels, allowing the farmers to determine the best way to get their products to market.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, roughly 80 per cent of all seafood consumption in the U.S., was from restaurants nationally. With the pandemic restrictions and closures, Maine aquaculture producers suffered significant losses as restaurants closed their doors. Producers quickly looked to alternative distribution methods, including direct-to-consumer sales, which gained popularity and continues to serve as an important channel in 2022.

To cover all areas of the aquaculture supply chain in the Maine Aquaculture Distribution Mapping Manual, which was funded in partnership with FocusMaine, the MAA interviewed more than 20 stakeholders, including seafood producers, wholesalers, distributors, restauranteurs, trucking companies, and other members of the Maine and U.S. aquaculture industry.

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The manual presents three main recommendations to farmers:

  1. Diversify sales channels
  2. Maintain strong relationships
  3. Keep product quality consistent.

“This manual is such a valuable tool,” said Toni Small of Ice House Oysters located in Port Clyde, Maine. “From online sales to pop-ups and farmer’s markets, there are many routes to distribution. MAA walks us through the benefits and risks so we can make choices about where to put our efforts.”

The Maine Aquaculture Distributing Mapping Manual will also serve to inform a collaborative project underway between MAA, the University of Maine School of Economics, Gulf of Maine Research Institute, Island Institute, and University of Maine Cooperative Extension that explores in greater detail the costs, volumes, availability, and reach of the identified distribution channels, along with consumer preferences for Maine seafood across the U.S.

Maine’s aquaculture industry currently represents nearly 200 farms and more than 700 farmers who produce premium seafood–finfish, shellfish, and sea vegetables–in Maine’s cold, clean waters.