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Training Fishermen to Become Fish Farmers

This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

There are schools of fish, and there are schools for fishermen. The Cod Academy is a year-long program in Maine, one of the New England states in the American Northeast.

The academy is new. The idea is to train current or former ocean-going fishermen to become fish farmers.

Sebastian Belle is director of the Maine Aquaculture Association. That group launched the Cod Academy with the University of Maine and other partners. Mr. Belle says the academy teaches all about managing a floating farm.

SEBASTIAN BELLE: “One of the things we've been teaching the students is how to feed the fish and not overfeed the fish. So you want to give them enough feed, and not waste any feed and make it as efficient as possible."

Clayton Coffin of Great Bay Aquaculture is helping retrain commercial fishermen to become fish farmers

Clayton Coffin of Great Bay Aquaculture is helping retrain commercial fishermen to become fish farmers

The students practice at eight fish pens about a kilometer and a half from shore. These circular pens are fifty meters wide and covered with netting to keep out seabirds. Each one holds as many as fifty thousand cod. A partner in the academy, Great Bay Aquaculture of New Hampshire, operates this fish farm.

Most of the cod will become someone's meal somewhere in the world.

Bill Thompson is fifty-nine years old. He served in the Navy and worked as a commercial fisherman. He says the Cod Academy made him a believer in fish farming.

BILL THOMPSON: “Even if the wild stocks came back to their fullest capacity, they still wouldn't be able to feed the world. So I think this is the way of the future. And it's feasible for a family to run a business.”

He and his son were among the first four students who graduated in August. Bill junior is thirty-nine and has been a working fisherman for most of his life. He dives for urchins and traps lobster. But he has a wife and four children to support.

BILL THOMPSON JUNIOR: “Well, I've seen a depletion of the source of everything I've been harvesting over the years. I look into the future, I can't see my kids set up in what I'm doing right now as far as, you know, lobstering, urchining. I don't want to see them, you know, get a source that's depleting every year.”

Like any business, fish farming has financial risks. Program director Sebastian Belle says students have to develop a marketing and business plan before they can graduate. Graduates can receive financial assistance from the Maine Aquaculture Association to start their own cod farm. But they will be expected to raise about half the money toward any project.

Mr. Belle says the Cod Academy is based on programs to retrain displaced herring and tuna fishermen in Norway and Japan. These government-sponsored programs started more than thirty years ago.

SEBASTIAN BELLE: “It's never been done before in America and we're trying to see if it's a model that has some potential. “

Maine had just one commercial cod farm when the students graduated last month, but Mr. Belle hopes things will change.

SEBASTIAN BELLE: "It's a native fish to Maine. The growing conditions in Maine are very good for cod, and it's kind of a natural choice for us as a state."

And that's the VOA Special English Education Report. I'm Jim Tedder.


Contributing: Tom Porter