BAR HARBOR — State regulators’ recent dismissal of American Aquafarms’ lease and wastewater discharge applications has not deterred the Norwegian-backed company from acquiring a former seafood-processing facility as part of its broader plan to raise Atlantic salmon in Frenchman Bay or elsewhere in coastal Maine.
Nor has the Gouldsboro Select Board’s extension of its current freeze on finfish aquaculture development dissuaded American Aquafarms from asserting its presence in their town. Late last week, the company demonstrated its intent to make a Gouldsboro property part of its envisioned Frenchman Bay operation to process market-size salmon from two 15-pen sites near Bald Rock Ledge and Long Porcupine Island as was proposed in its terminated state applications.
The Maine departments of Marine Resources and Environmental Protection’s April 20 and 21 actions prompted many year-round and seasonal Frenchman Bay residents to breathe big sighs of relief. However, American Aquafarms’ April 29 acquisition of East Coast Seafood Group’s Maine Fair Trade Lobster property from New Bedford, Mass.-based East Coast Seafood Group was a rude wakeup to the project’s opponents who are determined to keep industrial-scale aquaculture activities from operating in Frenchman Bay, at the Prospect Harbor facility or in coastal Maine waters.
Amid the uncertainty of American Aquafarms’ next move forward, and Frenchman Bay United and other citizen groups’ renewed opposition, Mount Desert Island’s Acadia Senior College has invited both the company and its critics to make their cases separately in a free, two-part online program from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 10, and Tuesday, May 17. The college’s incoming president, Mike Hastings, will serve as moderator during the two presentations. Open to the public, the online program will be run by Hastings and will allow for questions from viewers and listeners via Zoom.
“We at the Senior College respect the breadth and vigor of the discussion of this proposed project within the communities we serve and want to give all those interested an opportunity to hear both perspectives in a fairly structured format,” the Senior College’s current president, Linda Dunn, said last week.
At the May 10 presentation, American Aquafarms’ Project Manager Tom Brennan is expected to give an overview of the company’s plan to use Norwegian aquaculture designer/manufacturer Ecomerden AS’s semi-closed Eco-Cages, each measuring 125 feet wide, to raise Atlantic salmon from smolt to market size at the two Frenchman Bay sites. Brennan, who has been the company’s main spokesperson for the $250 million salmon farm since it was first proposed in mid-fall of 2020, also will outline the project’s economic benefits for Frenchman Bay communities, Hancock County and Maine.
On April 20, the DMR issued a public notice that American Aquafarms’ two lease permit applications were being permanently terminated because of the company’s failure to provide a “Qualified Source/Hatchery” for Atlantic salmon eggs or juvenile fish in compliance with state regulations and standards. The state agency also cited the company’s failure to furnish a source that met its “genetic requirements” under law. The proposed source of fish was U.S.-owned AquaBounty Canada’s Newfoundland hatchery.
Responding on April 21 to the DMR’s action, DEP Commissioner Melanie Loyzim announced her agency was cancelling the company’s wastewater discharge license applications because the Frenchman Bay project was no longer pending before the DMR.
At the May 17 session, Frenchman Bay United Director Ted O’Meara, Friends of Acadia’s acting CEO Stephanie Clement and Acadia National Park Superintendent Kevin Schneider will present their shared concerns and criticism of American Aquafarms’ industrial-scale project. The salmon farm’s proximity to Acadia National Park, the company’s plan to discharge 1.4 billion gallons of diluted effluent into the Frenchman Bay and subsequent environmental impacts on the 14-mile-wide inlet – its ecosystems and marine flora and fauna – and traditional fishing grounds are among the major issues.
“Many believe, with good reason, that aquaculture will become an important part of Maine’s evolving marine economy. Thus, it is essential that our state have an appropriate, well-funded and dynamic regulatory regime to guide and manage this industry,” Hastings said in a press release. “Maine citizens should know the challenges involved as we grow our aquaculture opportunity.”
Reached via email Monday, American Aquafarms Vice President Eirik Jørs said the company would make its plans public to raise Atlantic salmon in coastal Maine waters and use of the Prospect Harbor facility in coming days. American Aquafarms is owned by Blue Future, a Norway-based group of aquaculture investors. They include American Aquafarms founder Mikael Rønes’ investment company, Global AS, and Amar Group, whose CEO is Bjorn Apeland, among other Norwegian investors.
Last week, Eirik Jørs told the Islander that American Aquafarms remains “committed to the process and to further the development of sustainable and environmentally friendly aquaculture in Maine.”
To participate in Acadia Senior College’s May 10 and May 17 online program, pre-registration is required.