Partnerships in Aquaculture Innovation: Sea & Reef and UMaine

Sea & Reef Aquaculture LLC in Franklin, Maine, is one of the largest marine ornamental fish hatcheries in the world. It is based in an aquaculture incubator that was established with support from the Maine Technology Asset Fund (MTAF) and located at the University of Maine Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research (CCAR).

Sea & Reef Aquaculture CEO and founder Soren Hansen, who received a Ph.D. in marine biology from UMaine, grew his business that now employs eight with technical support from the university. Sea & Reef specializes in captive breeding of marine ornamental fish for the saltwater aquarium hobby, selling to retail pet stores and wholesale distributors in the U.S and to overseas markets. The company, incorporated in 2003 while Hansen was conducting his Ph.D. research, is committed to conservation and the need to develop marine ornamental aquacultures to reduce fishing pressure on the world’s coral reefs, where fish are often obtained in ways that are destructive to both the organisms and surrounding environment.

In 2008, Sea & Reef successfully cultured about 1,000 clownfish per month belonging to 10 different species, and needed a place to expand. MTAF funding was secured for the project and the CCAR business incubator underwent renovation. In early 2011, Sea & Reef Aquaculture relocated from a modest lab space facility at the University of Maine’s Aquaculture Research Center to the newly renovated 12,000-square-foot CCAR business incubator.

With the help of funding from a Maine Technology Institute Development Loan and technical assistance from CCAR personnel, Sea & Reef installed modern aquaculture production systems by adapting culture technology developed in Maine for intensive food fish culture to marine ornamental fish aquaculture. As a result, Sea & Reef has increased production to commercial levels in the past four years at the CCAR business incubator and is now culturing more than 50 different species and color morphs, including Sea & Reef’s signature “designer clownfish” variations with a retail value of up to $300 per fish.

Sea & Reef’s eight full-time staff include University of Maine marine science graduates.