CALAIS — A coastal fisheries and marine technology program is launching this fall at Washington County Community College to help bolster the region’s iconic waterfront industries. A new aquaculture-specific program is also in development to help jumpstart people in the burgeoning field.
About two years ago, officials at the school heard from folks in marine industries that there weren’t enough technicians to keep up with minor repairs for vessels and equipment. They also found that students were going into other programs such as automotiveso they could take those skills and use it on their fishing boats.
“It’s related, but they were really interested in going fishing,” said Nichole Sawyer, the dean of workforce and professional development at the community college.
She also saw fishermen in the area looking to diversify their business, possibly dabbling in aquaculture or considering a captain’s license to run passengers.
All of these different needs culminated in a 63-credit associate degree, as well as a one-year certificate program, aimed to prepare graduates for entry-level positions in the commercial fishing and aquaculture industries and give them a wide “generalist” for this type of workforce.
The courses were developed together with the industry and are perfect for learners across the spectrum, whether it be adults looking for skills, early college students, or high schoolers looking to get a jumpstart on college, Sawyer said. It has two concentrations: operations and maintenance, and fisheries.
Many of the courses are modularized and are run online, making it more convenient for learners across the state and students who also hold down jobs, she said. Core classes will much of the time be held on Saturdays and are purposely scheduled for the end of October and early November to try and conflict as little as possible with the season.
“Folks who are involved already in these industries can actually participate in the training if they wish,” Sawyer said.
The creation of that program, which is styled to build a generalist knowledge base, also highlighted the need to delve into something more specific for aquaculture, a fast-growing industry on the waterfront.
“It’s been growing about 8 to 10 percent for the last 10 years,” said Chris Davis, the executive director of the Maine Aquaculture Innovation Center, which is working with the college on the program. “The last four or five years, it’s seen an awful lot of interest.”
Aquaculture can vary widely though, from farming kelp, to growing finfish on land in recirculating tanks to shellfish, something the generalist program could never cover.
“It’s getting into species specifics,” Davis said of the program, which is still in the works.
Like the other program, this too would have two tracks, a one-year certification and a two-year associate degree. It will focus on four different areas of aquaculture: marine finfish, shellfish, sea vegetables and recirculating aquaculture.
“The thrust on this project is really on the workforce,” Davis said. “How to enter the industry.”
This new program is being funded through a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant for $500,000 over three years. Officials have been meeting with industry members to find out where the gaps are and with aquaculture educators across the state.
While that more specialized degree is still in the works, Sawyer emphasized that there are still spots available for the generalist program that starts this fall.
“If people were even thinking about it, they should call and chat with us,” she said.
For more information on the coastal fisheries and marine technology program, visit www.wccc.me.edu/academics/programs/programs-study/coastal-fisheries-and-marine-technology.