ME - Maine Shellfish Farmers Gaining Confidence With Scallops
Japanese ‘ear-hanging’ processing techniques and equipment helping to build a micro-industry
In Maine, Atlantic sea scallops (Placopecten magellanicus) are one of the most valuable fisheries in U.S. waters, the target of deep-sea draggers and divers on dayboats.
But compared to a seasonal fishery, an aquaculture crop has the key advantage of a year-round supply and steady pricing. In an attempt to build a fledgling scallop farming industry, Maine shellfish farmers started trialling a Japanese technique called ear hanging in 2017. Taking advantage of a sister state agreement with Aomori Prefecture in northern Japan, growers in Maine are working to establish semi-automated commercial aquaculture operations (the Advocate covered these efforts in 2016).
Since then, progress has accelerated. In 2018, community development and business advising firm Coastal Enterprises Inc. (CEI), which has been part of the ear hanging work since 2016, received a grant from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research for a three-year program to further develop ear hanging in Maine.
CEI purchased three machines from Mutsu Kaden Tokki Co., Ltd., in Mutsu City, Aomori. Five farms have utilized the equipment implementing small-scale commercial trials with several thousand scallops on each farm, while market research by CEI has been gauging the potential demand for ear-hung farmed scallops.
“After a trip to Japan in 1999, people in Maine began collecting wild seed and releasing it into the wild as a stock enhancement technique. In more recent years they have begun retaining it and trying to farm it,” said Hugh Cowperthwaite, a senior program director at CEI. “Most of the early work had been conducted using bottom cages, but scallops don’t necessarily thrive when they’re packed together. Meanwhile, Aomori has an 85-year old industry with specialized techniques for scallop farming and we wanted to try them here.”