Farm Site Permit and Lease Application Workshop Development and Implementation for Fishermen Entering Maine’s Expanding Seaweed Aquaculture Industry

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2023: $109,158.00
Projected End Date: 06/01/2026
Grant Recipient: Atlantic Sea Farms
Region: Northeast
State: Maine
Project Leader:
Liz MacDonald
Ocean Approved Inc.

Information Products

Atlantic Sea Farms-- Seaweed Farming in Maine (Conference/Presentation Material)


  • Miscellaneous: other


  • Education and Training: decision support system, technical assistance, workshop
  • Production Systems: other
  • Sustainable Communities: community planning, community services, employment opportunities, local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, partnerships, public policy

    Proposal abstract:

    The Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 97% of the world’s oceans and Maine’s rural coast is dependent almost exclusively on a climate-dependent lobster monoculture. Kelp farming is an off-season, viable income source for lobstermen and women with limited opportunities on the water and who face a critical dependence on this vulnerable fishery.  In partial response to the volatility of the lobster industry, Atlantic Sea Farms (ASF) - a mission-driven, woman-run company - and our partner farmers are pioneering the fresh, sustainable, line-grown domestic seaweed industry. Kelp farming not only helps fishermen diversify their income and adapt to climate change -  but uses no arable land, freshwater, pesticides, fertilizers, or feed inputs and can also mitigate some of the effects of ocean acidification by removing carbon and nitrogen from the ocean creating a “halo” of less acidic water. Fishermen are well-equipped with the knowledge to work safely and effectively on the ocean, possess the gear and boat needed to successfully start a kelp farm with minimal additional investment, and most importantly their immediate survival depends on the health of our lands and sea. However, due to bureaucratic barriers the hurdles to entry remain high for new and current farmers interested in starting or growing their kelp farms. 

    The current leasing process, run through Maine’s Department of Marine Resources and designed by marine scientists, is complex, technical, and time consuming. The process is often complicated enough to prevent new farmers who are unfamiliar with the process and busy running other marine-based businesses from applying and obtaining a lease. Education and training are needed to help fishermen successfully navigate the leasing process and to reduce the time from initial interest to first harvest. ASF aims to support a total of 150, comprising both new and existing seaweed farmers to start or expand their farms in the next three years. To achieve this target, five annual workshops, assisting 5-10 farmers, will be held in varying locations to include hubs across the coast in: southern, mid-coast, and Downeast Maine. Workshops will cover an overview of the application process; site selection and mapping; application questions, formatting, and submission; community and landowner outreach; potential conflicts (e.g. user issues, environmental, etc.); and guidance for the scoping session and public hearing. Participants will have dedicated time with ASF staff, our current partner farmers, and DMR staff. After completing the workshop ASF staff will provide continued assistance to farmers as they move through the process to ensure farmers successfully acquire a lease. In addition to technical assistance, ASF provides free seed and a 100% buyback guarantee of all harvested kelp crops to lower the initial cost to operate and mitigate the risks of fishermen’s new business.

    Performance targets from proposal:

    ASF will host workshops for 150 prospective and active kelp farmers in Maine. Pending DMR approval, this could result in up to 500 acres of leased farm space, resulting in upwards of 5 million pounds of farmed kelp - more than doubling the state’s annual harvest yields. The production of 5 million pounds of kelp would result in a minimum of 3.5 million dollars that ASF would pay farmers who decide to partner together for their crops, based on the existing price per pound of kelp, which is assessed annually and expected to increase over the project timeline.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.