Kelo Pinkham, a fisherman based in the Trevett part of Boothbay, has been considering starting an aquaculture project for some time. But he hadn’t taken the plunge.

“I’ve been interested in aquaculture for a few years. Every kind of fishing I do is going downhill, so I’m looking for something else to do,” Pinkham said.

Now, he’s filling out lease applications for potential aquaculture projects growing shellfish and seaweed. That work includes contacting the Coast Guard and potential land abutters about prospective sites.

It’s not blind speculating. Pinkham participated in an innovative new aquaculture training program created by several Maine aquaculture and fishing nonprofit organizations, including Maine Sea Grant, the Maine Aquaculture Association, Coastal Enterprises Inc. and the Island Institute (publisher of The Working Waterfront).

Called “Aquaculture in Shared Waters,” the program’s goal has been to help the state’s fishermen diversify their business models to include shellfish and seaweed aquaculture, said Dana Morse, a marine extension associate for Maine Sea Grant.

It also has funded research exploring the socioeconomic intersections between the state’s aquaculture and commercial fishing industries.

“The program was really an experiment to see if we could blur those lines between commercial fishing and aquaculture,” Morse said.

This past spring, the group held classes for commercial fishermen connected with the Corea Lobster Coop and the Interstate Lobster Coop in Harpswell. The program was built from lessons learned from past aquaculture training programs for Maine fishermen. Some past programs have been successful, others not so much.

One of the new ways that this program sets itself apart, said Morse, is in the type of students recruited. There is a value they found in tailoring the classes for students who are serious about exploring aquaculture, rather than those wanting to kick the tires. The course was intensive, spanning 11 weeks between February and May, but it has led to a handful of potential aquaculture projects.

Morse also said the program was structured this time to include instructors who could provide comprehensive guidance on all the diverse aspects of starting an aquaculture opeation, from business plans to seed stock to regulatory permitting.  The process has created a statewide infrastructure of support, he said.

“One of the beauties of this team-teaching thing is that we are all there for continued support,” Morse said.

That continued support has benefitted Pinkham, who met with Morse the day he was interviewed for this story. Pinkham has tried over the years to diversify his fishing business to include groundfish, lobster and shrimp, but poor stock seasons and shifting regulations have made economic viability difficult. While aquaculture provides its own share of regulatory hurdles and variables, Pinkham thinks it might be a good idea to include it in his business plan. He just wished he started earlier.

“If I had started out small a couple of years ago, I’d be there by now,” he joked.

Gouldsboro lobsterman Ed Weaver also thinks aquaculture might make sense as a way to become less dependent on a single species, lobster, even though that species is doing well at the moment. 

“Nothing goes up forever,” Weaver said.

He’s filed paperwork to form a limited liability company to grow seaweed, and he’s already spoken with a major Maine seaweed processor about selling future product. Weaver said he likes that seaweed could be a money-making opportunity for when the lobster season isn’t in season.

“It actually works for when I’m not working,” he said.

Morse said the “In Shared Waters” program is exploring future grant opportunities to continue with classes either in spring of 2014 or fall 2014 and spring 2015.