Date of Award
© 2020 Phoebe Walsh
Professional Science Master's (PSM) In Ocean Food Systems
Adam St. Gelais
Two emerging Maine industries, kelp (Saccharina latissimi and Saccharina angustissima) and Atlantic sea scallop (Placopecten magellanicus) aquaculture, have enormous market, environmental, and social potential but are faced with challenges of small scale and limited operations, inadequate infrastructure, market visibility, and limited expertise. Because many industries, particularly the dairy industry, have benefited from the use of cooperatives (co-ops) to aggregate an extremely perishable product, quickly process and effectively market and distribute, this research explores the cooperative model as a potential tool for the nascent scallop and kelp industries. Aquaculture co-ops are new in Maine. The first, the Maine Aquaculture Co-op (MAC), formed in 2016 to help develop the sea scallop aquaculture industry. As more farmers come online to sell and demand grows, the co-op needs to determine its next direction. Furthermore, the lack of kelp processors in Maine is hampering that industries’ growth. To make recommendations to MAC, a theoretical kelp co-op, and aquaculture co-ops in general, this research determined the benefits and challenges of co-ops, and the important factors that influence co-op structures. Ten aquaculture, agriculture and fishery co-ops were researched through data mining, participant observation, and semi-structured interviews. The factors to consider for defining the structure of a co-op are whether: 1) the co-op will act as a distributor, 2) product will be marketed using individual member branding or co-op branding, 3) if members are required to sell through the coop or will sell individually, and 4) members’ geographic proximity to one another. The ten benefits of the co-op model are 1) shared labor and personnel, 2) group purchasing, 3) shared infrastructure, 4) community relations, 5) banking, 6) industry entry and growth, 7) market stability, 8) grants, 9) knowledge sharing, and 10) democratic membership. The challenges to co-ops are 1) member cooperation, 2) financial returns, 3) and disputes over branding. Short-term recommendations for MAC are based off findings from two small, established aquaculture co-ops that have a co-op distribution facility and mostly independently producing farmers who occasionally cooperatively farm and share farm equipment. Product is branded by member farms, but all transactions pass through the co-op. Recommendations for a kelp co-op are based off large scale marketing co-ops where raw materials are aggregated from farms, processed into value added products, and marketed and distributed.
Walsh, Phoebe 2020. Cultivating Cooperatives: Benefits and Challenges of Co-ops and Recommendations for Maine’s Emerging Aquaculture Industries. Graduate Program in Ocean Foods Systems, University of New England, Maine, USA.