Oysters, clams, scallops, blue mussels; salmon, cod, haddock, flounder; freshwater baitfish, ornamental saltwater fish; seaweed and algae; saltwater caviar fish: Maine aquaculture operations raise a surprising variety of species, both fresh and saltwater.

Sebastian Belle, director of Maine Aquaculture Association, says there are 140 to 150 commercial aquaculture companies in Maine. They are supported by numerous people who work in the goods and services side of aquaculture, plus a large aquaculture research community.

This work is vital to supply the world’s population with seafood products. According to the Maine Aquaculture Innovation Center (MAIC), global demand for fish is expected to rise 70 percent in the next 35 years, a demand that can no longer be met by dwindling wild fish stocks. It is expected that in the 21st century, aquaculture will be a major new agricultural growth industry.

People from the Maine aquaculture community, and many more from other Northeastern states, will convene at the Eastland Park Hotel in Portland on December 3, 4 and 5 to share their expertise at the biennial Northeastern Aquaculture Conference and Expo (NACE). The conference, which MAIC director, Chris Davis, says was first held at the Samoset Resort in 1998, will bring together participants with a wide range of experience.

It provides an unparalled opportunity for sharing information on all aspects of both freshwater and saltwater aquaculture. The most recent NACE conference, held in Connecticut in 2006, was attended by over 300 participants and featured a trade show with representatives from 30 companies.

Belle says he believes the program will offer something for everybody in the aquaculture community. Topics that will be covered by aquaculture experts from Maine and other Northeastern states include blue mussel production in the northeastern U.S., marine ornamental fish aquaculture, production of European oysters in the northeastern US; the development of energy efficient aquaculture systems; the feasibility and status of off-shore aquaculture production in the northeastern US; recirculating aquaculture systems, recent improvements in facility discharges, and multi-trophic aquaculture production in the Gulf of Maine.

Another interesting session mentioned by Belle will focus on marketing, sustainability and certification programs such as organic certification. “We have a pretty much an all-star cast of people on the panel for that session,” he says. “It’s not just for people in aquaculture, but for anyone in the seafood industry who wants to understand what is happening with seafood marketing.”

Belle also noted that NACE will be of special interest to commercial fishermen and their children who have called MAA to inquire about starting up in some form of aquaculture. “We’ve been getting a lot of phone calls,” he says “more interest than in 10 or 15 years. I don’t think these people want to leave their present work and go into aquaculture 100 percent, but that it would be just another way to make a living on the water.”

He adds that some Maine growers will present interesting programs on the results of their five year’s experience raising marine fin fish, and that others will share important findings from their research with shellfish diseases.

NACE also features technology transfer presentations which could include outboard repair and maintenance, upweller design improvements, spat collection of sea scallops, integrating plants as a secondary crop for pond culture, and ecotourism and the aquaculture industry.

Registration for NACE by November 3 is $160, $80 for students. Registration fees increase after Nov. 3. Lodging arrangements at Eastland Hotel need to be made separately.

NACE is being organized by several marine organizations in Northeastern states. In Maine, they include the Maine Aquaculture Innovation Center, Sea Grant of Maine and Maine Aquaculture Association.

For further information, see www.northeastaquaculture.org.