CEI Stories

Serving & supporting small business owners just like you.


April 15, 2022

American Unagi

The American eel (Anguilla rostrata) is in increasingly high demand as a versatile ingredient in Western cuisine. But before an eel becomes a meal, it is caught and grown from juvenile, or elver, stage to adulthood, using aquaculture.

An experienced aquaculturist, Sara Rademaker, founder of American Unagi, saw the significant market potential for Maine-caught and -raised eels. In early research, she learned that elvers were caught along the East Coast, primarily in Maine, and commonly shipped overseas to be grown and processed in unknown conditions before they were sent back to U.S. markets and restaurants.

She began to build out a business model for a company that would improve the transparency, traceability and environmental impact of the eel trade, while supporting the local marine economy.

Rademaker reached out to CEI for technical assistance in 2016, when she moved her research and design work on a recirculation aquaculture system to the University of Maine’s Darling Marine Center. Two years later, CEI invested $25,000 in American Unagi, helping to jumpstart fundraising efforts. Since then, CEI has provided additional equity and a loan, alongside financing from Gorham Savings Bank, Finance Authority of Maine and other investors, to capitalize the construction of a custom-built, commercial-scale, 240 metric ton aquaculture production facility in Waldoboro, Maine. Once construction is complete, the company expects to create up to nine new jobs in a rural, coastal community with a poverty rate more than 8% higher than the state average, despite its deep history and experience in marine resources.

Maine’s heritage industries are leading the way by innovating for long-term economic and environmental sustainability. We see the future in climate-friendly aquaculture, like American Unagi, as well as in companies using new technologies that support sustainable or restorative use of rural assets like trees, water and land.

Keith Bisson, President, CEI

“As an early investor, CEI has shown patience at every turn of our growth path, which hasn’t always been linear,” said Rademaker.

Learn more about American Unagi

Learn more about CEI’s Impact

Read our 2021 Annual Report

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