Tess Hureau spent the summer interning at a Brunswick aquaponics company that grows fresh vegetables and fish.
For the University of Maine aquaculture student, it was a chance to expand her knowledge beyond fish to sustainable plants.
“It was so interesting,” she said Thursday in Belfast at the Student Symposium for the Advancement of Maine’s Blue Economy. “I learned about what it takes to run a farm, basically.”
And when the rising senior from Colorado finishes her schooling, she plans to stay in Maine.
“I would love to keep on working in the aquaculture community,” she said. “Maybe try an oyster farm or working with fish.”
Hureau, 21, was one of dozens of young adults who completed internships at Maine farms and hatcheries this summer. Industry leaders joined them in Belfast to celebrate the state’s “blue economy.”
The term refers to the part of the Maine economy that is working to “conserve marine and freshwater environments while using them in a sustainable way to develop economic growth and produce resources such as energy and food,” according to Educate Maine, which organized the symposium.
Kate Howell, director of workforce partnerships at Educate Maine, said her job is focused on pairing students with the needs of Maine businesses.
Overall, she works with 450 interns across many industries, with Thursday’s focus on the state’s growing aquaculture sector.
“I really believe workforce development doesn’t happen in a silo,” she said. “It happens across the industry, across the state, across organizations. Students, businesses, different educational partners all coming together to say this is what aquaculture looks like, here are all of the opportunities available in the state.”
The economic impact of the industry in Maine has nearly tripled since 2007, growing from $50 million to $137 million in 2021, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The industry employed about 622 people in 2020 but is projected to directly employ more than 1,000 by 2030 and provide indirect economic benefits to an additional 2,000 jobs through the supply chain and downstream markets, according to the Gulf of Maine Research Institute.
In 2022, Maine had 152 aquaculture farms, with 67 pending lease applications.
And like all employers across Maine, those farms need workers.
When Kingfish Maine is up and running in Jonesport, the land-based fish farm is expecting to employ 70-100 people, said Tom Sorby, operations manager.
And those jobs will be for people of all different skill levels, from high school graduates to those with advanced degrees.
“For any aquaculture operation, we need a broad set of skills really, whether that’s the biological side of things, getting the fish from eggs to grow out or even the mechanical side,” he said. “With a land-based fish farm, we’ve got a lot of systems, a lot of pumps, a lot of electrical.”
During a panel discussion featuring young professionals, the interns learned about ways to overcome barriers and the importance of choosing the right mentors.
Max Burtis, founder of Ferda Farms in Brunswick, said he dropped out of graduate school to work on his oyster farm.
“I didn’t want to sit at a desk all day,” he said. “I really couldn’t. Trust your gut on your path.”