Maine unveils strategies to address skill shortage
State will need up to 80 percent more workers by 2030, says new report
By Liza Mayer
Sixty-two percent of food fish will come from aquaculture by 2030, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, but without a skilled workforce the industry would be hard pressed to deliver.
Such is the challenge faced by many seafood farmers in North America, including those in Maine.
“Finding workers with the right skills is a year-after-year challenge for Mook Sea Farm,” says Bill Mook, owner of Mook Sea Farm, an oyster farm on the Damariscotta River in Midcoast Maine.
In a new report, “Maine Aquaculture Workforce Development Strategy,” the Gulf of Maine Research Institute and Maine Aquaculture Association recognize the need to establish a comprehensive workforce training system to meet those needs.
The state’s aquaculture industry is comprised of largely owner-operator-scale shellfish and marine algae farms, mid-sized service providers, and large-scale finfish farms. New production models, such as land-based recirculating aquaculture systems, provide yet another growing employment opportunity in this sector.
In 2019, Maine aquaculture created 622 direct and 1,169 indirect jobs. These numbers are projected to rise by 33 percent and 43 percent, respectively, by 2022. By 2030, direct jobs and indirect jobs are forecast to grow by roughly 80 percent (to 1,175) and by 89 percent(to 2,218) from 2019 numbers.
The report recommended four major strategies to meet the industry’s needs:
- the creation of three vocational hubs across the state to provide vocational training specific to aquaculture;
- an aquaculture apprenticeship program;
- the development of new occupational standards; and
- marketing support to promote the new learning opportunities.
“Maine’s aquaculture industry is poised to grow across all existing and nascent sub-sectors. It is the perfect time to embark on the strategy to provide the industry with skilled, dedicated labor and create pathways for Maine talent to enter this important growth sector,” the report said.
Shellfish farmer Mook says he’s impressed with the initiatives. “They are founded on industry needs and prioritize the type of training and experience to produce employees that can enable our continued growth,” he said.
The report was developed in partnership with Educate Maine and sponsored by FocusMaine.