Establishing An Offshore Mussel Farm In Federal Waters In The Gulf Of Maine

Offshore submerged mussel longline set up

Over the past 6 years, we have investigated the potential for culturing the blue mussel, Mytilus edulis, sub-tidally on long lines in near coastal waters off Gloucester and Rockport, in conjunction with local fishermen. However, coastal waters, are crowded with numerous user groups making access to acceptable shellfish areas increasingly difficult. In many approved areas space is often the limiting resource for shellfish aquaculture. Culturing blue mussels offshore allows fishermen to avoid these space issues.

Working with NOAA personnel we are defining the permitting process for offshore deployment of mussel gear in federal waters. Once permitted, we will establish long-lines and begin culturing. Our project involves an evaluation of gear options focusing on user-friendly designs, specifically for stocking, deployment and harvesting of mussel lines. The project will also develop stocking protocols to maximize mussel yields through refinements of seed density and line placement within culturing systems.. Finally, the project will compare results with similar southern initiatives currently underway off Martha’s Vineyard, MA and in Narragansett Bay, RI, examining techniques for seed collection, gear design and harvesting procedure, all essential components to developing a sustainable aquaculture industry.

Open ocean mussel culture would avoid conflicts with other coastal fishing activities while providing new sources of income to fishermen and other fishing-related businesses in the ports along the New England coast. Our primary objective is to refine and enhance offshore mussel culture as an alternative fishing option for fishermen and lobstermen currently displaced or negatively impacted by current fishery restrictions.

Once established, we hope to engage and train local fishermen in the long-line mussel farming. Using an offshore mussel farm business plan developed by researchers at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, at full scale, the site will consist of 60 – 300 ft submerged longlines with 100 – 25ft socked mussel grow lines hanging off each longline. After growing for about a year, at harvest size, each 300ft longline should produce a yield of about 15000 lbs of mussels.

  • The potential advantages of long-line shellfish production in offshore waters are many:
  • Limited impact on local habitats.
  • Complement shore-based shellfish harvest.
  • Multiple lines may be deployed in coastal and off-shore sites with minimal impacts to other maritime activities, such as other fisheries and recreation.
  • Fishers may supplement traditional fishing activity with open water shellfish harvest, providing a new way to use their boats.
  • Lines can be seeded with hatchery-reared and wild caught seed, reducing fishing pressure on natural shellfish populations.
  • Filtering activity of mussels can enhance water quality by removing excess organics.

Project Personnel:

  • Mark Fregeau and Ted Maney; Co-PI's
  • Captain Bill Lee, FV Ocean Reporter
  • Jim Blake, FV After Five
  • Dave Alves, Northeast Region Aquaculture Coordinator, NOAA NMFS
  • Scott Lindell, Director, Scientific Aquaculture Program, Marine Biological Laboratory