GOULDSBORO — Norwegians prize their slim, shrimplike lobster for its delicate, sweet flavor. So American Aquafarms’ top executives undoubtedly will sample Maine’s larger, meatier crustacean after their planned arrival here late next week. But Atlantic salmon and the Norwegian-backed company’s plans to farm the finned fish in Frenchman Bay will be the real issue amid shell cracking on the table.
Due to land in Maine over Labor Day weekend, Sept. 4-5, American Aquafarms’ founder Mikael Roenes, vice president Erik Jors and chief technology officer Erling G. M. Kristiansen will see in person Maine Fair Trade Lobster’s former seafood-processing facility in Prospect Harbor. They also will lay eyes on Frenchman Bay and their two 15-pen sites off Bald Rock and Long Porcupine Island at a point in late summer when Frenchman Bay towns’ lobster fleets are in high gear and getting unusually high prices for their catch. Their visit will follow the “Save the Bay Flotilla” this Sunday, Aug. 29, when commercial and recreational boaters will express their opposition to the $330 million project in the form of a boat parade at the proposed fish farm sites and along the Bar Harbor shore in Frenchman Bay.
During their visit to Maine, American Aquafarms’ execs plan to host a public meeting tentatively scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 7, at the Gouldsboro Recreation Center on Route 195 (679 Pond Road). The gathering’s intent is for the Norwegians to meet the community and answer questions concerning their operation’s potential jobs, workforce, housing and other issues raised, according to interim Gouldsboro Town Manager Eve Wilkinson.
Since they publicly announced the salmon farm venture via Zoom last October, the Norwegians, who hail from the town of Grimstad and city of Kristiansand in southern Norway, increasingly have been hampered from visiting Maine in person by the coronavirus’s escalating spread and related travel restrictions of late last spring. In late May, the U.S. State Department announced National Interest Exceptions (NIE) for executives providing “vital support or executive direction for significant economic activity in the United States” from eight nations as well as the Schengen Area. The latter group comprises 26 European countries including Norway.
“The pandemic-related travel restrictions have really hindered our ability to adequately communicate to the public,” American Aquafarms’ Director of Project Development Tom Brennan said in an email Tuesday. Brennan, who has been the company’s lone executive in Maine, will be shaking hands with his Norwegian colleagues for the first time. He approached the acting town manager about a suitable venue for a public Q&A session. Wilkinson, who mentioned the session’s tentative date and time, said the Gouldsboro Rec Center is more spacious to house a crowd than the Prospect Harbor Women’s Club. The town charges $100 to rent the venue.
As of this week, Maine Department of Marine Resources spokesman Jeff Nichols reported that American Aquafarms’ two “draft” lease applications still “have not yet been deemed complete.” Nichols said DMR will conduct its own site assessment and will schedule a hearing once the applications are found to be complete. Given the state agency’s hearing schedules, he said a hearing for American Aquafarms is not likely in 2021.”
Meanwhile, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) accepted American Aquafarms’ wastewater discharge permit application as complete on June 9 following a May 6 public meeting.