Urchins and oysters eyed for local farming

GOULDSBORO An organic seaweed farmer is seeking to raise oysters and sea urchins in deep water at an existing ocean site, where the marine species’ growth will be tracked to test their potential as sustainably harvested seafood in years to come.  

Last year, Springtide Seaweed LLC founder Sarah Redmond secured a 10-year aquaculture lease to grow sugar kelp, skinny kelp, alaria and dulse west of Gouldsboro’s Stave Island in Frenchman Bay. Based in South Gouldsboro’s Bunkers Cove, Redmond also manages a 35-acre seaweed farm off Preble Island near Sorrento for lease holder James West. Springtide grows, harvests and processes its crops into dried seaweed powder and flakes for food producers. The company also has a line of salt-free seasonings and its own hatchery. 

Now, besides seaweed, Springtide has applied to cultivate green sea urchins and American oysters year-round in the western section of its lease site off Stave Island. Redmond would use the farm’s existing system for growing seaweed there and attach seven-tier lantern mesh nets to the deep-water longlines at a 20foot depth. No commercial fishing activity has been observed or related gear placed in the proposed area, according to the Gouldsboro company’s Maine Department of Marine Resources application for species and gear changes deemed complete on Nov. 18. Written comments about the project may be submitted via email or in writing no later than 4 p.m. on Dec. 24 to the DMR. 

Urchin seed initially will be provided by the University of Maine Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research in Franklin. The urchins would be hand-harvested during the period running from September through April. Kelp will be seeded onto the longlines for the shellfish to feed on.  

Springtide Seaweed LLC co-owner Sarah Redmond is seeking to raise oysters and sea urchins at her permitted seaweed farm off Gouldsboro’s Stave Island in Frenchman Bay. PHOTO COURTESY OF SPRINGTIDE SEAWEED

“Green sea urchins are a new potential species for cultivation, and the proposed amendments would enable research and development of incorporation of sea urchins within a seaweed farm for a diversified crop,” Springtide’s application states. “Proposed culture method takes advantage of the deepwater site, with all long lines and cages suspended below 20 feet deep to avoid any surface conflicts and to take advantage of the colder water at depths.” 

Springtide’s initial focus is collecting scientific data. If the urchins thrive in the deep-water system, the company would proceed and market the spiny shellfish’s sweet roe or uni, ranging in hue from golden to orange, which is prized as a premium sushi delicacy by the Japanese.  

In addition, Springtide would use the same existing system to cultivate American oysters in the same western section of the Stave Island site area. A maximum of 50 seven-tier, mesh lantern nets would be attached to the submerged longlines at a depth of 20 feet. Each tier has the capacity to hold from 50 to 100 oysters. The oyster seed would be supplied by Mook Sea Farm in Walpole and Muscongus Bay Aquaculture in Bremen.  

“The American oyster is typically cultivated in shallow water, inside floating bags at the surface,” the application notes. “The proposed amendments would allow for the research and development of incorporation of American oyster into a deepwater seaweed farm to allow for crop diversification.” 

Across Frenchman Bay, Sedgwick-based Ocean Resources Inc. has applied for permission to lease a 2.96-acre site to grow both sea urchins and American oysters in the Jordan River that flows between the towns of Lamoine and Trenton. The completed application involves placing a maximum of 900 plastic-coated, metal-mesh cages on the tidal river’s bottom two miles north of Mount Desert Narrows. Each cage, covered with 3/8-inch predator mesh, is tethered to a half-cinder block. Urchins and oysters cohabit in the cages. Kelp is abundant in the area.  

“It would take a few years to work up to 900 cages,” Ocean Resources owner David Quinby estimated in his completed application for a 20-year lease. He noted the UMaine Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research in Franklin is working to produce more urchin seed. The oyster spat would come from Bagaduce River Oyster Co.  

Ocean Resources would harvest and sell the cultivated urchins for their roe content as sushi or for scientific and classroom applications. The oysters would be sold and marketed as premium seafood. Divers would harvest by hand both the urchins and oysters.  

In recent years, Quinby had an experimental lease in the Jordan River. Over several years, he observed the urchins “grew pretty quickly in the oyster cages” sitting on the river bottom. “They seemed to be big enough too. We are looking to quantify that now.”  

Once DMR has conducted a site review, it will hold a public hearing on Ocean Resources application. The document is available for public review at https://www.maine.gov/dmr/aquaculture/leases/pending/documents/COMPLETE_11.18.20_OceanResources.pdf. 

To learn more about Springtide’s application, the document is at maine.gov/dmr/aquaculture/leases/pending/index.html. Comments can be emailed to [email protected] or sent to DMR, Aquaculture Division, 21 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04333-002. The deadline is Dec. 24.   



Letitia Baldwin

Letitia Baldwin

Arts Editor at The Ellsworth American
In addition to editing the Arts & Leisure section, Letitia edits special sections including Out & About, Overview, Health Quarterly, Your Maine Home, House & Garden and Get Ready for Winter. She comes from Chicago, Ill, but has deep family ties to the Cranberry Isles. [email protected]

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