Marsden Brewer is a third-generation Maine fishermen who docks in Stonington.
“I’ve been involved in all the fisheries over my lifetime,” he said.
These days it’s mostly lobster, but he has fished cod and shrimp, and carted urchin to market. These once-vibrant species are now mostly off-limits after being overfished and weakened by climate change.
“I’ve seen the collapse and been part of the collapse of most of the fisheries. Not intentionally, but just the way it was set up to work, it wasn’t sustainable, and this project here is looking at sustainability in a fishery,” he said.
The project Brewer refers to is a 20-year effort to diversify his business by developing a profitable scallop farm. He used to scatter baby scallops in the bay, then trawl up the adults a couple years later. Success was limited though.
Now, from his 38-foot lobster boat moored more than a mile offshore, he’s experimenting with methods from Japan, where scallop farming is a long tradition.
Brewer, his son Bobby and Dana Morse, a marine extension agent with the University of Maine, winch up from the depths a long rope strung with 12-foot dark mesh bags. The collapsible bags are partitioned by horizontal shelves, giving them the look of giant Japanese paper lanterns. Inside, each level holds 20 or so squirting scallops.
Brewer first netted these scallops two years ago, when they were in their free-floating larval stage, known as a spat. The boat’s crew carefully measures their growth. They’re more than 2 inches wide now — not quite ready yet for market.
Extension agent Morse first visited Japan 20 years ago to check out scallop systems there, and he’s been back since — towing along fishermen like Brewer. Morse said the Brewers are leading the way for other lobstermen looking for affordable ways to diversify.
“The handling system that Marsden and Bob have put together is fabulous because it allows them to be lobster fishing at one time in the day and then with maybe a half an hour’s difference they can be scallop farming. So that’s flexibility right there,” he said.