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Coastal Enterprises: Using Maine’s Natural Resources to Generate a Thriving Economy

Since its founding in 1977, Coastal Enterprises, Inc. (CEI) has been working to help people and communities in Maine achieve success by working and learning in harmony with the natural environment.

Across Maine, CEI has helped communities adopt and thrive in many industries, such as sustainable agriculture, fisheries, aquaculture, small business development, and renewable energy expansion. Over its 40-year history, CEI has invested more than $18 million in local aquaculturists, seafood harvesters, processors, wholesalers, and maritime infrastructure and leveraged an additional $55.8 million from other funding sources.

“Coastal Enterprises has been working for decades to keep Maine’s economy growing and our communities thriving,” said Hugh Cowperthwaite, Senior Director of the Fisheries & Aquaculture at CEI. “With Maine’s coast serving as a hub for a lot of our state’s economic activity, we know that keeping our marine industries vibrant is important for the livelihoods of many Mainers. And that requires making sure these communities have access to critical resources in prosperous times and otherwise.”

CEI’s presence in Maine was especially felt during the COVID-19 pandemic when the fishing industry was hit by stay-at-home orders and shut down economies. As Maine fishers struggled to maintain operations, CEI helped to provide them with services like advertising, financing, and business counseling that helped them keep their businesses running.

Beyond the pandemic, CEI has helped ensure Maine’s coastal communities can continue thriving for generations to come, even in the face of climate change. Its Working Waterfront Access Protection Program helped improve 25 working waterfront properties that were at risk of damage from the more intense storms and weather patterns that now frequent the region. By protecting these properties – 7,200 feet of Maine shoreline in total – CEI helped ensure nearly 700 fishing boats, over 1,100 fishers, and 1,200 families could continue benefitting from Maine’s blue economy, regardless of weather. CEI has helped Maine communities be more resilient to challenges like a global pandemic, climate change, and dwindling fish stocks.

Maine Oysters sorted at fishery.

Sorting fresh Maine oysters prior to sale and shipment.

Maine’s commercial fisheries have faced a literal sea change in the past decade. Traditional groundfish stocks have all but collapsed due to overfishing, and restrictive conservation closures have forced many fishers to relocate, abandon vessels, or turn to other industries for income.

At the same time, Maine now currently ranks between second and third nationwide for aquaculture production and has the people, coastline, and reputation to be a national leader in not only producing farmed seafood but in developing sustainable and innovative methods to raise high-quality seafood.

That's why CEI is working to improve and maintain the state’s marine infrastructure on water and land. To help ensure Mainers have good paying jobs and thriving natural resources, CEI has launched its Aquaculture in Shared Waters training program. The program began in 2015 through a partnership with the Maine Sea Grant, the Maine Aquaculture Association and the Maine Aquaculture Innovation Center. It provides a twelve-week course for people interested in developing seaweed or shellfish aquaculture operations. The program gives participants technical and regulatory support, small business lending and development assistance. CEI's goal is to train 150 new aquaculturists and double the number of businesses it support to more than 400 by 2024.

“Over the years we’ve been able to work closely with Maine’s coastal communities to help them continue to thrive even in the face of challenges,” said Cowperthwaite. “Whether it’s a pandemic or climate change, Mainers are resilient and will find the solutions needed to protect our environment and grow our economy. We’re grateful at CEI for the opportunity to work across the state and bring communities together around all that Maine has to offer.”