Date of Award

Winter 2022

Project Type


Program or Major

Natural Resources and Environmental Studies

Degree Name

Master of Science

First Advisor

Catherine Ashcraft

Second Advisor

Julia Novak-Colwell

Third Advisor

Lindsey Williams


Aquaculture is one of the fastest growing forms of food production globally. In the United States, there has been a renewed interest in aquaculture development in domestic waters. With widespread expansion of shellfish aquaculture started by local entrepreneurs and fishermen, the states of Maine and New Hampshire have experienced aquaculture driven economic development in coastal communities impacted by the decline in wild capture fisheries. Additionally, aquaculture farming practices can provide ecosystem services such as water quality improvement, nutrient removal, and habitat availability. When implemented carefully, marine food products from aquaculture can be among some of the most environmentally responsible choices for consumers, and as such, they are in high demand.

New England supports some of the highest numbers of women owned oyster farms in the country. Although women make up half of the global workforce, their roles in the fisheries and aquaculture sector are poorly understood and have largely been unaccounted for, which may have pervasive impacts on opportunities for social and economic progress. This research analyzes women’s experiences as oyster producers in Maine and New Hampshire, identifies gender-specific institutional barriers and resources, and the ways in which the use of a social network may support their businesses. A food system wide survey and a photovoice case study methodology was implemented with photography, narratives, interviews, and a focus group to accomplish the research objectives. Investigating aquaculture development through a gender lens can provide insights to inform more socially equitable management and policy decisions for aquaculture development in the region.

The gender norms of the aquaculture industry create systemic barriers that impact the oyster businesses owned by the women who participated in this research. Using institutional analysis and social-ecological theory combined with a gender analysis, gender-specific barriers were identified. These barriers include lack of funding opportunities, training that does not meet their needs and business goals, farm equipment and clothing that does not fit, and gender discrimination in the workplace. As a tool to address the areas where institutional barriers are occurring, the women in this research leverage alternative social networks of women oyster farmers. Based on the study findings, recommendations to address gender equity in the region’s oyster industry include investing in women’s networks and providing multiple opportunities for engagement, funding opportunities for women owned aquaculture, and collecting demographic data to account for women’s presence in the industry and to be able to track change over time.


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