South Portland eyes Ferry Village pier for fish farming

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The Portland Street Pier in Ferry Village could become home to the city’s first aquaculture operation. 

City councilors in a workshop Monday night discussed the advantages and potential an aquaculture processing plant could bring not only to the city, but to the region.

Because aquaculture in Maine is a burgeoning business, bringing this type of industry to the city could reflect an “If you build it, they will come” scenario, Councilor Claude Morgan said at the July 11 workshop.

Sebastian Belle, executive director of the Maine Aquaculture Association, told councilors, “We are currently facing some challenges in terms of the world’s food supply,” which Maine and the east coast are “not inoculated against.”

“In our children’s generation, access to reasonably priced food is going to be dramatically different than it is today,” he said. 

Consumption of seafood worldwide is increasing, “but we don’t have enough of it. … We import over 94 percent of the seafood we consume in this country,” Belle said. 

Aquaculture provides about 2 percent of the domestic demand for seafood, he said, and “Maine is uniquely positioned to serve that market.”

Aquaculture, or aquafarming, is the cultivation of fish, plants or seafood in an environmentally controlled and sustainable setting, and can be land-based or ocean-based. 

In Maine, aquaculture operations in recent years have grown an average of 8-10 percent in both gross revenues and employment per year, according to Belle.  

“We have an underused pier, we have capacity, and if we do this right we can offer stability,” he said. “Plus, it’s a remarkable opportunity for us. We can fill this niche in an industry that is about to soar.”

The Portland Street Pier, off Front Street, is sandwiched between Sunset Marina and a Portland Pipe Line pier. It offers 15 boat slips for small commercial fishing vessels.

An expansion of the pier to accommodate an aquaculture processing or packaging plant would likely require significant repairs and dredging, according to a report presented to the City Council by Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Director Kevin Adams.

Belle cautioned that an aquaculture plant is not the same thing as a seafood cannery, in terms of size and bulk.

The term “processing plant” can sound scary, he admitted. But by today’s standards, it’s hard “to build a plant of any size that doesn’t fit into the local community.”

Councilors were enthused at the possibility of offering infrastructure for aquaculture in the city. 

“Our waterfront has been woefully underutilized for years,” Councilor Linda Cohen said. “It has so much potential in so many different ways.”

Councilor Patti Smith said she views this project much the way she viewed the possibility of a solar farm at the city’s capped landfill.

An opportunity like this “can define our city, create an identity in our city in a progressive way that helps us move forward with industry workforce, and (offer) economic value that ripples through the community,” Smith said.

Councilors tasked Assistant City Manager and Economic Development Coordinator Josh Reny with collecting more information for another workshop in a few months. 

The sooner, Morgan said, the better.

“I’d like to see piers going in next spring, and that means begin a permitting process pretty soon,” he said. 

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA

South Portland city councilors on July 11 discussed the possibility of bringing an aquaculture facility to the Portland Street Pier.

South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.