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Aquaculture sits at the nexus of many coastal issues in Maine, such as the privatization of coastal marine space, real estate development and gentrification of coastal communities, the decline of working waterfront communities, commercial fishing regulations, and other tangential issues such as offshore wind development. Maine’s aquaculture sector is expanding because of economic opportunity and the need for social, economic, and ecological diversification of food sources along the coast. Despite this desire for growth, conflicts and a lack of community engagement have built varying misconceptions and levels of trust in communities and among stakeholders actively engaged in aquaculture’s development. Regulations about lease sizes, consolidation of leases by corporations or large investors, out-of-state interest, and ecological carrying capacity have been at the forefront of contention within communities. Given the differing sizes of aquaculture companies, the variation of species farmed, and the differences in demographics across communities in Maine, aquaculturists have struggled to build social trust and credibility, which has seen varying results.

For our project, we aimed to account for all stakeholders directly linked to the growing aquaculture industry, assessing their power and positions on the issues they face. In using legislature hearing transcripts on regulatory bills as proxy data and relevant literature on aquaculture to support our data findings, we were able to craft the two deliverables of our project; an actor-network map highlighting stakeholder positions, relations, and power dynamics followed by a set of recommendations and processes for stakeholder engagement. The map will be a resource for assessing and identifying where tensions need to be dissolved and where coalitions between stakeholders can be made.

The recommendations aim to build on the theory of social license to operate, where aquaculturists, community members, researchers, and policymakers work together to form mutually agreed upon industry standards and regulations to shape future growth. The recommendations included methods of community outreach and empowerment that aim to maximize the number of community members reached, increase their access to information, and involve them in decision-making processes regarding research and policymaking. These methods would include, but not be limited to, public forums, cooperative research, advisory groups, public listening sessions, and decentralized decision making. They can be viewed in more detail under the recommendations sections. These methods of community engagement will necessitate various additional components to complete, such as funding and staffing the community and municipal organizations within each of the communities helping expansions of aquaculture farming. We hope these serve as tools and resources to solve and ensure the healthy growth of aquaculture farming in Maine.