Growing a mussel business is no quick work. It takes 18 months for seeded mussel ropes to produce a commercially viable harvest. Mussels are typically farmed on floating rafts which are subject to wind and waves which can further slow growth by up to several months. Crop losses from storm waves and drift ice are also common, especially in the cold and windy Gulf of Maine.
Perhaps no one is better suited to research, design and introduce new farming methods than a leading aquaculturist. For years, Carter Newell, founder and managing member of Pemaquid Mussel Farms, has pondered these challenges on and off the ocean. His big idea: a patented submersible raft that makes many of the issues associated with traditional floating rafts irrelevant.
Knowing that CEI supports the growth of shellfish farming in coastal Maine, Newell reached out to a business advisor at CEI’s Small Business Development Center in Wiscasset for help in developing his business plan. “The CEI business counseling was essential in putting my ideas and projections together in a plan that would be the basis for my business development,” he said.
As the research and development of the technology progressed, Newell knew he would need significant financing to push the project forward. Ultimately, a myriad of supporters and lenders including CEI contributed to the financing of Newell’s innovative model.
As a mission-driven investor for over 40 years, CEI aims to help support the creation of good jobs, environmentally-sustainable business, and shared prosperity. Pemaquid combines all of these goals with its strategic business plan.
Pemaquid has four sea farms which employ six part-time employees. Newell hopes to soon transition to nine full-time jobs with benefits. According to Newell, for every $1 million in mussels grown, $2.5 million is generated in economic activity for the region.
“One of the keys to successful mussel farming is the ability to produce a high volume of product. Pemaquid is poised to deliver that volume by increasing their production with their new submersible raft design,” said Hugh Cowperthwaite, director of CEI’s Fisheries program. “Pemaquid Mussel Farms has the capacity (knowledge and staff) and resources (equipment, lease sites) to significantly grow the Maine mussel industry.”
Newell explained, “The financing became the first component of a major capital campaign to grow my business five-fold. The patented submersible mussel raft system developed with funding from USDA and Maine Technology Institute (MTI), is the basis of our business expansion activities supported by CEI,” said Newell. “If we can prove the economic viability of a nine-raft, 800,000 pound-a-year mussel farm, miles from shore in semi-exposed bays, the business model can be replicated 10-fold or more along Maine’s coast to take advantage of a $10 million a year projected demand for Maine raft-grown mussels.”
For Newell, environmental sustainability is critical in how he farms mussels. Natural local stocks are used for seed and grown in coastal waters, rafts are built using Maine-sourced goods, and ultimately, mussels are sold to Maine restaurants, wholesalers and farmer’s markets. When mussels are reseeded on the farms, Pemaquid Mussel Farms uses biodegradable materials and reuses culture ropes. A portion of business profits supports the Fair Food Network. In addition to farming practices, Newell has been helping train commercial fishermen in aquaculture for more than two decades, in order to help them diversify their year-round income streams. He provides mentoring for start-up companies, and engages in research and development in applied coastal oceanography, engineering, and innovative equipment development.