Shellfish Farmers

Shellfish Farmers

With its stunning coastline and abundant marine resources, Maine has become a hub for shellfish farming. This sustainable and environmentally friendly practice has gained popularity in recent years, providing a source of delicious seafood while minimizing the impact on natural ecosystems.

Shellfish has been a part of Maine’s coastal heritage for centuries. Today, the farming of shellfish plays a crucial role in the state’s economy and culture, providing employment opportunities and delicious seafood to both local and national markets. Maine is renowned for its high-quality farmed shellfish which are sought after by seafood enthusiasts around the world.

We will take a deep dive into the world of shellfish farming in Maine, exploring what it is, where it happens, and the various types of shellfish being cultivated. Join us on this journey as we uncover the secrets of sustainable aquaculture in the beautiful state of Maine.

Alex deKoning of Acadia Aqua Farms shucks a fresh scallop in Bar Harbor

What is Shellfish Farming?

Shellfish farming, also known as shellfish aquaculture, is the cultivation of shellfish in environments such as rivers, bays, tanks, or open water areas. It involves the breeding, rearing, and harvesting of various shellfish species, including oysters, mussels, clams, and scallops. This practice allows for the controlled growth and development of shellfish, ensuring a steady supply of high-quality seafood.

In Maine, shellfish farmers use a variety of methods to cultivate their crops. Some opt for traditional methods such as bottom culture, where shellfish are grown directly on the ocean floor.

Others employ more modern techniques, including suspended culture, where the shellfish are grown in floating bags or cages. These different approaches offer flexibility and allow farmers to adapt to the unique conditions of their farming sites.

Where Does Shellfish Farming Happen in Maine?

An outline of the State of Maine

Shellfish farming is widespread along the coast of Maine, taking advantage of the state’s extensive shoreline and diverse marine habitats. The suitability of a site for shellfish farming depends on factors such as water quality, temperature, and salinity levels.

Some of the prominent areas for shellfish farming in Maine include Casco Bay, the New Meadows River, and the Damariscotta River. These regions offer ideal conditions for shellfish growth, with clean waters, sheltered areas, and nutrient-rich sediments. The Gulf of Maine provides a unique combination of cold and warm water currents, creating an environment that supports a diverse range of shellfish species.

What types of shellfish are grown in Maine?

Maine is renowned for its delicious shellfish, each with its own unique flavor profile and culinary applications. Let’s dive into some examples of the shellfish being cultivated in the state:


Maine oysters are prized for their briny yet sweet taste. Varieties from each region are highly sought after by seafood enthusiasts and enjoyed raw on the halfshell and cooked. These oysters are carefully grown and harvested, ensuring optimal flavor and texture. In Maine, a petite oyster—the desired size for raw bars—can take anywhere from a year and a half to three years on average to reach market size. There are about 150 individual oyster farms in Maine, producing over 11 million oysters per year.


Maine mussels are known for their plump and tender meat. Mussels are farmed using surface culture through a series of vertical lines on which mussel seed grows, or bottom culture where mussel seed is planted and later harvested through dragging. The smooth, dark shells of Maine mussels house a delicately sweet and slightly nutty flesh.


Maine scallops are generally known as the Atlantic Sea Scallops. What we call a “scallop” is one part of the sea scallop animal, the adductor muscle. This muscle is more developed in the scallop than in oysters and clams because scallops use it to open and close their shell which allows them to “swim.” Scallops are most commonly grown in nets, hung by their shells on vertical lines, or in cages on the bottom.


Some farmers are experimenting with hardshell clams, but there is not yet a robust industry for clam aquaculture. Experiments are being done on the raising of certain clam species for public fisheries stocking and aquaculture development.

Shellfish Statistics

Shellfish farming has experienced significant growth in Maine over the past decade. According to recent data, the state’s shellfish aquaculture industry generates $85-$110 million a year in sales.

Maine aquaculture provides jobs for more than 700 year-round employees across 200 farms. Sustainable aquaculture practices promote environmental stewardship, helping to preserve Maine’s coastal ecosystems and biodiversity. Shellfish farming not only supports the livelihoods of countless individuals but also contributes to the ecological health of Maine’s coastal waters.

As filter feeders, shellfish themselves provide benefits to the ecosystems in which they are cultivated. Shellfish act as natural filters, improving water quality by removing excess nutrients and sediment. They provide crucial habitat for other marine species, enhancing biodiversity and ensuring the overall health of the marine ecosystem. Shellfish aquaculture gear can serve as a breeding ground for fish, a hiding place from predators, and a food source through the many animals and plants that attach themselves to the gear.

Learn More

Shellfish farming in Maine is a fascinating and sustainable industry that combines the natural beauty of the state’s coastline with the production of high-quality seafood.

Through careful cultivation and responsible practices, shellfish farmers in Maine are able to meet the growing demand for these salty delicacies while preserving the integrity of the marine environment.