What seafood is farmed here in Maine?
Maine aquaculturalist (water farmers) raise: Atlantic salmon, Eastern Oysters, Blue Mussels, Cod, Halibut (experimentally), Green Sea Urchins (experimentally), Soft Shell Clams, Scallops, Rainbow Smelt, Golden Shiners, Redfin Shiners, Fathead Minnows, Suckers, Emerald Shiners, Brown Trout, Rainbow Trout, Sand Worms, Shad, and several species of tropical marine fish that are raised for aquariums.
How much farm raised seafood does Maine produce a year?
The latest published figures from the Department of Marine Resources report just under 19 million whole pounds of salmon were harvested in 2004. In addition, over 9 million pounds of shellfish were harvested as well. The most recent economic survey of the industry conducted by O’Hara, Lawton and York of Planning Decisions in 2003 reported a contribution of $82 million in direct sales and revenue. Of this $49 million was from finfish farming, $11 million was from shellfish farming and the remaining $22 million came from operations such as fish smoking and diagnostic health services. The total impact of the aquaculture industry is 130 million after all of the other indirect effects such purchasing business supplies and stimulating consumer spending by their employees, are considered as well.
How many aquaculture farms are there in Maine?
There is about 1,295 acres of marine waters leased in the state of Maine for aquaculture purposes. This includes standard leases, experimental leases and limited purpose permits. This acreage is split between 143 different lease and permitted sites in the State. In addition to the marine production there are numerous freshwater facilities that are used for aquaculture purposes, including 3 commercial salmon hatcheries, 10-15 commercial hatcheries raising various other freshwater and anadromous fish, 2 federal salmon hatcheries, 9 state hatcheries, 6 saltwater shellfish hatcheries, over 20 research and teaching facilities and numerous freshwater private ponds.
Note: Lease acreage and numbers are from the June 2005 Lease inventory compiled and published by DMR, see the DMR aquaculture page to see the most recent the online version of this document. A link to DMR’s aquaculture page can be found on our links page.
How long does it take to raise an animal?
This depends on the animal. For instance a salmon spends 1 ˝ years in the hatchery and then 1 ˝ - 2 ˝ years in marine net pens. Oysters spend about 3 months in the hatchery then 7-8 months in juvenile culture systems, and a further 1 ˝ - 2 ˝ years growing to market size. Blue mussels can grow to market size in as little as 1 year and take up to 3 years depending on seed size, water temperatures and culture techniques. Marine worms take about 6 months to grow to market size.
Is Maine farm raised seafood safe to eat?
Yes, Maine farm raised seafood is safe and healthy to eat. As seafood farmers, we have to follow the same food safety guidelines and restrictions as any other seafood provider. Farm raised sea food is often of a higher quality then other sea food as the entire life of the animal is controlled from the waters where they are grown to the food they eat. Maine seafarms only harvest when they have orders and the farm sites are close to where our products are sold. It is common for our products to be in the store or restaurant the same day they were harvested from the farm. This provides an extra margin of safety and quality to farm raised products. In addition all companies producing aquaculture products for human consumption must comply with numerous state and federal food safety regulations and inspections.
In the store farmed salmon is labeled as color or dye added. Does this mean you inject the fish with dye?
No, farm raised salmon are never injected with dye. “It is true that naturally occurring chemicals called carotenoids are added to salmon feed and this is what gives the salmon their distinctive color. They are, in fact, the same carotenoids that make wild salmon pink. They come through the food chain from the plankton that produce them in the first place. These same carotenoids are also what make shrimp and crabs pink and that is why shrimp farmers add them to their feed as well.
It is also a fact that these carotenoids - astaxanthin and canthaxanthin to be exact - are produced synthetically to be used as additives in the feed of fish and poultry (to give the skin and egg yolks a brighter yellow color) and as colorants in and on a wide variety of foods. These carotenoids are good for human health and are essential nutrients for salmon. They are powerful antioxidants and if you “GoogleTM” them you will see that they are sold as health food supplements and sunless tanning treatments.
Carotenoids are what make carrots orange (and they are good for our eyesight) and, daffodils yellow. Adding them to food for nutritional or aesthetic reasons is perfectly safe, and in many cases, beneficial. It is no different from adding vitamin C to fruit juice as a dietary supplement, and yes, vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is also made synthetically and is no different from the “natural” vitamin C produced in citrus fruits.”1
I heard salmon had lots of pollutants in it like mercury and PCB’s. Is this true?
No, salmon in general and farmed salmon in particular does not have high amounts of pollutants including mercury and PCB’s. Both of these contaminants are found in the environment and in our food supply in low amounts. In the case of farmed and wild salmon the most recent studies put the levels around 10-12 parts per billion. This would be equivalent to 10 cents out of 10 million dollars. Mercury and PCB’s can be found in both wild and farmed salmon, and in both instances they get into the fish through what the fish eat. Because, these contaminants primarily enter the fish through their food, salmon farmers are able to minimize the amounts of these contaminants in farmed fish. While it is impossible to completely eliminate them from the feed ingredients, rigorous testing ensures that their levels are kept to an absolute minimum. Unfortunately, with wild caught fish as there is no control over what that fish eats you could get a fish that is relatively high in contaminants or one that is low and you would never know.
For more information on this subject visit the Salmon of the America’s website.
What are the ingredients in salmon feed? Do they use lots of antibiotics and chemicals?
Salmon feeds, like feeds for other fish such as trout or cod, are made primarily from sustainable sources of fish meal, fish oil and vegetable products. These same ingredients, in differing ratios, are also used in poultry, swine and beef feeds. People often wonder why salmon feeds in particular are not made exclusively from vegetable products. The answer to this is simple. Salmon are unable to digest carbohydrates which are found in vegetable products, thus they must be feed high protein and lipid diets. In addition vegetable products do not provide salmon with all of the nutritional components they need to grow healthily.
Salmon feeds normally do not contain antibiotics and they never contain hormones. “During the early years of salmon farming it was common to medicate the fish fairly regularly to control a number of diseases to which they were susceptible. Today, antibiotics are used very seldom because vaccines have been developed for most diseases. When compared to chicken and hog farming, or human medicine antibiotic use in salmon is miniscule. In beef and poultry for example, these animals are typically on low-dose antibiotics for more than 50% of their lives. For salmon grown in Maine over 95% of them will never be given antibiotics. In total since salmon farming has begun in Maine in 1976 about 3% of the total feed used has been medicated. Many salmon farms are now completely antibiotic-free and some are ably to qualify for “organic” status.”1
Much of the concern about antibiotic use in fish farming comes from how they are used in land based agriculture. In a number of commodities such as beef and poultry antibiotics are routinely used as growth promoters. Fish are fundamentally different than land based animals because antibiotics don’t work as growth promoters. Fish physiology is different and no matter how much antibiotics a fish farmer used it wouldn’t make their fish grow faster. Couple this fact with the development of effective vaccines and the fact that an antibiotic treatment on a typical fish farm might cost over $100,000 and you can understand why fish farmers only treat when they absolutely have to in order to ensure they protect their animals health and welfare. If a farmer does have to treat their fish they only do it under the supervision and prescription by a licensed Veterinarian. If the Veterinarian misuses any medicine their license can be revoked so they are very cautious about using medicines in the first place.
Where can I purchase Maine farmed seafood?
You can find places to buy Maine farmed seafood on the Member Products page of our website.
Aren’t salmon that escape from farms a problem for the wild salmon?
There is a lot of debate about whether or not fish that escape from farms pose a risk to wild fish. The thought is that escaping fish might breed with wild fish and thereby lower the fitness of the population or that escaped fish will out compete wild fish for resources thus endangering wild populations. Existing studies provide little clear evidence that either of these situations actually occur. One or two studies suggest that there may be some short term impacts, while many other studies have been unable to document any impacts at all. One thing about which there is no debate is that when fish escape from a farm they cost the farmer money.
Regardless, of whether or not escaped salmon pose a risk to wild populations, Maine salmon farmers have been some of the most progressive in the world in developing ways to prevent escapes. In 1997 Maine salmon farmers established the first farmed fish “Code of Containment” in the world. The Code established minimum equipment and operational standards designed to reduce the risk of fish escape. In 2001 Maine salmon farmers signed an agreement with the Conservation Law Foundation, Trout Unlimited and The Atlantic Salmon Federation to work cooperatively on improving fish containment and to develop a third party audit program. In 2003 the Maine Aquaculture Association Containment Management System (CMS) was unveiled. The CMS is a comprehensive risk management system that requires farmers to aggressively minimize any factors that might cause escapes. The CMS includes a minimum set of equipment standards and a requirement that the farmer conduct a farm specific risk analysis. Based on that analysis the farmer develops a site specific farm containment plan that focuses on critical risks and management actions that minimize them. This plan also includes requirements to document management responses. The final component of the CMS is an external audit program designed to monitor compliance with the CMS and increase the transparency of farm operations to regulators, and the public. Adherence to the CMS and mandatory reporting of escape events has been a required part of state discharge permits since 2003. Since the implementation of this system only 4 suspected Maine aquaculture fish are known to have returned to a Maine river in 2005. In both 2003 and 2004 no suspected aquaculture fish were found in Maine Rivers. Finally over the last 5 years Maine salmon farms have invested several million dollars in improved equipment designed to reduce the risk of escapes.
I was told salmon farms pollute the bottom of the ocean under the net pens?
Salmon farms do add nutrients to the water in the form of uneaten feed and feces. “It is possible to have too much of a good thing. If a fish farm is situated in shallow water where there is no tidal flushing and the farm is heavily stocked it can cause the form of pollution known as eutrophication, or simply too many nutrients. Excess nutrients cause plankton (algae) growth, depleting the water of oxygen when the plankton die, causing fish kills and reduce productivity. One of the best features of fish farms is that they are self-regulating for this concern. If a salmon farmer pollutes the water at the farm site, it is the fish in the pens that will suffer the most harm. Fish living outside the pens can swim away but the farm fish must live or die in an enclosed area. They are somewhat like the proverbial canary in a coalmine in that they would suffer first, the farmer would go broke and the pollution would end.”1
Salmon farms protect the environment through the use of a variety of methods. First, before any farm is permitted by federal and state regulators a farmer has to prove that the location they have picked is a good one. Both the farmer and the state do rigorous site reviews to characterize a site and to ensure there are no protected species on it. In addition they survey the site to determine if the ecosystem has the capacity to assimilate nutrients coming from the farm without environmental damage.
Once a site is permitted it is monitored every year by state regulators to ensure it is not negatively impacting the environment. Water and bottom samples are taken and divers swim under the cages with video cameras to document the health of the surrounding ecosystem. If a farm is not being managed correctly and is negatively impacting the environment the state and federal regulators can revoke a farms permits to operate. Without all of those permits a farm is out of business.
Finally farmers do a lot during everyday operations to minimize any environmental impacts they might have. In particular careful feeding is very important. Excess uneaten feed is prevented from settling to the bottom by the use of underwater video cameras. These help site workers to determine when the fish are full and s feeding before excess feed that would sink to the bottom is added to a cage. Feed is the single largest cost of raising salmon so it is in the farmer’s interest to not waste any.
Aquaculturalists also do large amounts of environmental monitoring, especially of water quality conditions. This monitoring is undertaken for two reasons. First, state and federal permits or regulations require the monitoring done to insure that farms are not having an unacceptable impact on the environment. The second reason is to ensure the best possible growing conditions for the farm animals. Both fish and shellfish farmers raise their animals in water. These animals are immersed in and physiologically linked directly to the quality of the water. If water quality decreases then farm animals are challenged physiologically, growth rates decrease, and their ability to resist disease challenges decreases. In short if water quality decreases farm animals don’t flourish and farmer’s profits suffer.
I heard that farmed salmon are responsible for spreading diseases to wild fish?
“In fact the reverse is true. All the diseases that farm fish get are from the wild. Farm fish go into the ocean disease-free and sometimes contract the diseases that are natural in the waters around them. If the disease outbreak is severe, they can be treated and cured, unlike wild fish that get disease and transfer it to both other wild fish and to farm fish.”1
Maine has the strictest fish health regulations in the country and possibly the world .Maine farmed fish are inspected regularly throughout their life by licensed and accredited veterinarians. In fact in some cases commercial hatcheries are inspected more often than fish being raised in federal and state hatcheries whose fish are directly released into the wild. Commercial hatcheries have to maintain a “qualified source” status in order to sell any fish. It takes three consecutive years of clean facility and fish health inspections to get this status and maintain it. A single positive disease test during that period and the facility looses its status and ability to sell fish. Commercial fish are also regularly tested at the marine farms and all eggs and broodstock used by our farms are individually sampled and tested before we use them. State and federal regulatory agencies and third party biosecurity auditors routinely monitor all our farms, transportation companies and processing facilities.
In Maine starting in 1998, the growers developed and signed a series of cooperative health plans. These plans are based on the latest scientific knowledge and focus on practical disease prevention. The plans establish minimum operational standards and biosecurity protocols that all MAA salmon farming members must comply with. In 2001 the salmon growers turned these cooperative agreements into a legally binding document the Maine Aquaculture Association Finfish Bay Management Agreement. This comprehensive agreement establishes detailed protocols designed to reduce the risk of disease on all our member farms.
Fish farms have actually helped scientist understand more about fish diseases because it is almost impossible to study diseases in wild fish populations. When a wild fish gets sick it dies (and decomposes before a researcher can sample it) or it is eaten by a predator. On farms scientists and farmers can observe and sample fish to learn about pathogens and how to protect both farmed and wild fish from them. Much of what we have learned about aquatic pathogens has been learned on farms not because they have a higher incidence of disease but because they are the only places that we can observe fish for extended time periods under controlled conditions. The same is true for much of our understanding of fish behavior.
1 Taken from Dr. Patrick Moore’s Keynote Presentation “Aquaculture-The Future of Healthy Protein and Oil for a Growing Population” at Aquaculture Canada 2005, St. John’s NL. Aquaculture Association of Canada http://www.aquacultureassociation.ca/ac05/