The first official Maine delegation to visit Aomori was introduced to scallop aquaculture in 1994, and the first fisheries-only delegation from Maine visited in 1997 to learn more about the industry. Representatives from Maine’s aquaculture community, the University of Maine Sea Grant Cooperative Extension Program, and the Maine Department of Marine Resources returned with the intention of exploring the potential for scallop aquaculture along the coast of Maine. University of Maine Sea Grant aquaculture specialist Dana Morse participated in the 1997 visit, and returned home with nets and other gear needed to harvest larval scallops, called ‘spat’, from the wild. There is as much art as science to discovering the most ideal spawning grounds for any species in the near ocean, and a little more than 10 years later, several fishermen working with Dana — from Stonington to Cape Elizabeth — managed to perfect the art of capturing scallop spat for later propagation.
While Dana Morse and his colleagues continued to explore elements of scallop aquaculture from spat collection to methods of growing such as culturing in cages, another group of scientists and economists was visiting Aomori in 2010. The 2010 delegation visit included aspects of marine fisheries and aquaculture, as well as renewable energy, and rural economic development. Hugh Cowperthwaite of Coastal Enterprises, Inc., Chris Davis of the Maine Aquaculture Innovation Center, Sue Inches, former Deputy Director of the Maine Department of Marine Resources, Professor Ian Bricknell of the University of Maine, and Don Hudson, retired President of the Chewonki Foundation, returned from their visit with a renewed interest in bringing scallop aquaculture to Maine. The conversation about scallop aquaculture continued between Maine and Aomori, and Hiroaki Sugiyama, the founder of the leading scallop-handling equipment manufacturing company in Aomori, accompanied two delegations from the prefecture in 2012 and 2014, to introduce his equipment to the fishing community in Maine. Mr. Sugiyama and the Prefecture encouraged a return visit to Aomori to explore scallop aquaculture in depth.
Six years in the planning, Hugh, Don, and Dana organized a two-week visit to Aomori in October 2016, bringing with them fishermen and experts — including Chris Davis, again. The delegation’s visit was funded in part by a grant from the U.S. Japan Foundation, U. Maine Sea Grant, the Maine Aquaculture Innovation Center, the Maine Aquaculture Association, and the Friends of Aomori. The Aomori Prefecture team, led by Masanori Homma, provided a ‘deep dive’ into all aspects of growing and marketing scallops. The owner of the Aomori-based scallop aquaculture equipment company — Mutsu Kaden Toki, Hiroaki Sugiyama, organized visits to scallop fishermen’s cooperatives, as well as providing a day-long workshop on the use and maintenance of all of his company’s scallop handling equipment.
The five fishermen from Stonington, Spruce Head, Portland, and Cape Elizabeth returned to Maine after the first week of the visit, along with a few others. Hugh, Dana, and Don were able to spend a second week of investigation, including the opportunity to see some of the handling equipment in use on the water. In particular, they were able to see how the ear-hanging, long line technique for growing scallops is managed.
Following the Maine delegation visit to Aomori, Mr. Sugiyama returned to Maine in early November 2016 to see the proposed scallop aquaculture sites first hand.
The first trials of long line, ear-hanging scallops in Maine will begin in mid-2017.