Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Aquaculture and the Postproductive Transition on the Maine Coast

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Aquaculture and the Postproductive Transition on the Maine Coast

Article excerpt

A packed crowd filled Bar Harbor's town hall. Maine's Department of Marine Resources was holding a public hearing on a young couple's proposal for a shellfish farm. Despite their farm's environment-friendly design, coastal residents hired an attorney who proceeded to question every aspect of the application. A neighboring aquaculture farmer interrupted frequently, with expletives, until the hearing officer expelled him. The atmosphere remained tense even after he departed. At another hearing a few days earlier in Damariscotta, the tenor was quite different. Only a few people came. A couple with land next to the proposed farm expressed concern about sailing access. A summer resident from California worried noise from the farm would interfere with her "think trips." The farmer and the landowners negotiated a bit and not everything was finalized. Everyone seemed a little frustrated with the slow pace, but the hearing's atmosphere was more bureaucratic than combative.

These two events are a microcosm of Maine's aquaculture public hearings. This paper explains what is happening at these hearings, and why they differ so greatly, by conceptualizing them as part of the "postproductive transition," which is a term for myriad changes taking place in many rural parts of the global North. These include the decline in resource extraction and commodity production, the growth of amenity migration, and the rise in multifunctionality--for example, remaining commodity production that needs to also meet conservation or other goals. Opposition to aquaculture is widespread and heavily impacts development (Gibbs 2009), and, while there are abundant studies of conflict over aquaculture, none directly apply literature on postproductivism.

Studying the postproductive transition in coastal regions requires engaging the literature on the "Blue Revolution." This term refers to the rapid expansion of aquaculture since 1970, a transformation of the world's food system reverberating in coastal communities around the world. Aquaculture now produces nearly half of all seafood and continues to be the world's most rapidly expanding food production sector (FAO 2014). It is a fast-growing source of scarce jobs for fishing communities, and "ecological aquaculture" offers an alternative to more industrial practices and to overexploitation of wild fisheries (Costa-Pierce 2014). The global geographic distribution of aquaculture is uneven, however. In the United States, approximately 50 percent of U.S. seafood sales come from aquaculture, but only 5 percent of aquaculture sales are produced domestically, despite excellent resources, and seafood imports create an $11 billion trade deficit (NSTC 2014). The United States produces only 0.8 percent of the world's aquaculture by weight but is the 2nd largest consumer (FAO 2014). In 2012, the United States spent $82.6 billion on seafood, importing over 80 percent, while only producing $1.3 billion of aquaculture products (NSTC 2014). To address this imbalance, the U.S. government is now promoting domestic aquaculture production.

This study examines these issues through a comparative analysis of three aquaculture regions in a state with both extensive aquaculture and a coastal postproductive transition, with varying levels of conflict between the coastal landowners and aquaculture farmers. It asks why these regions have different levels of conflict. Contextualizing these cases by seeing them as part of a coastal postproductive transition yields a nuanced explanation of aquaculture conflicts by illuminating the interaction between divergent viewpoints. This study reveals conflicting priorities between coastal residents and aquaculture farmers; the two groups negotiate over individual farms, and farmers find ways to fit aqua-culture into coastal residents' scenic and recreational priorities. However, in some places this breaks down due to the historical and geographic differences between the sites. …

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