UMaine aquaculture researcher receives funding for COVID-19 relief project

University of Maine aquaculture researcher Meggan Dwyer, one of 10 winners in October’s Maine Sea Grant’s Buoy Maine competition, received $14,000 for her project titled “Can It, Maine! Adding Value and Resilience to Maine’s Shellfish Seafood Sector.”

The Buoy Maine competition was developed to strengthen coastal/marine seafood and tourism-related industries, as well as redefining these industries during COVID-19.

Due to the closure of restaurants nationwide, live shellfish products have experienced a decrease in demand. Dwyer’s project focuses on “the need for research into diversified markets that can increase resilience in the farmed shellfish sector helping to support working waterfronts hit hard by the economic downturn.”

Dwyer also seeks to promote the potential benefits of canned seafood to chefs and seafood farmers.

Canned seafood can last up to 18 months in storage, which is why Dwyer began thinking, “extended shelf-life creates opportunities to develop expanded and diversified markets with the advantage of year-round availability, better transportability and increased ease of preparation.”

This will be a group effort, says Dwyer, who is associate director of the Aquaculture Research Institute, which serves Maine as an objective authority on aquaculture research with the goal of advancing a sustainable aquaculture future in Maine and the nation.

Dwyer will work with Rob Dumas, food science innovation coordinator at the Food Pilot Plant at UMaine and with researchers at Michigan State University who have specialty equipment for canning seafood.

She’ll also work with Maine shellfish growers to develop recipes from their product and the A.M. Look Gourmet Foods Company in Whiting, Maine, to examine the potential for shellfish canning in Maine.

Dwyer’s was the lone winning pitch from UMaine in the October 2020 Maine Sea Grant Buoy Maine competition.

Fifteen competitors initially submitted written proposals. Those who advanced each gave a 5-minute oral pitch in front of a panel of judges representing seafood, tourism, and economic development sectors.

Winners were awarded between $12,000 and $14,000 to fund their projects, which range from skincare to fertilizer to canned food.

Funding for the awards comes from the NOAA-National Sea Grant College Program as part of a 2020 COVID Rapid Response effort, with additional support from Maine Technology Institute (MTI), Maine Aquaculture Innovation Center, Maine Community Foundation, and Bangor Savings Bank.

The goal of the funding is to support fisheries, aquaculture, tourism and working waterfront areas that needed immediate support to move to the next stage of running businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. The team decided it did not want to start another program, rather they wanted to get funds directly to where they were needed.

“It was intended for COVID relief and for supporting Sea Grant stakeholders to deal with the pandemic and to support their businesses and their initiatives as they were transitioning into this new world,” says Natalie Springuel, a marine extension associate with Maine Sea Grant.

“Small coastal businesses were really struggling the first few months because of COVID. The opportunity to be in a position where we could help provide some support for these really tangible needs…that felt like the most exciting part of the whole project.”

As for the future of the pitch competition, Springuel says the team hopes to find a way to host more, depending on the availability of future funding. She also hopes that support can continue to be provided for this year’s winners. Stay tuned for a Buoy Maine celebration in summer 2021. The event will be open to the public and, based on circumstances, either virtual or nonvirtual.


Co-authored by Tilan Copson and Cat Caragine