An employee hand-feeds a tank of adult yellowtails at the Kingfish Zeeland recirculating aquaculture system facility located in the town of Kats on the southwestern coast of the Netherlands. The company is proposing to build a similar facility in Jonesport. PHOTO COURTESY OF KINGFISH ZEELAND

Dutch company plans fish farm in Jonesport



JONESPORT — Kingfish Zeeland, owner of a large recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) fish production operation in the Netherlands, got a strong show of support for its proposal to build a similar land-based facility in Jonesport during a public presentation to the community on Nov. 20.

Kingfish Zeeland considered more than 20 locations on the East Coast of the United States before narrowing its choice for a second RAS facility to Jonesport.

Ohad Maiman, CEO of Kingfish Zeeland (right), speaks with Jonesport residents Bob Benson (left) and David Look (center) Nov. 20. PHOTO COURTESY OF MAINE & CO.

Company CEO Ohad Maiman shared the company’s plans for its specialty yellowtail facility, answering questions in an open community meeting about the project.

“Our primary goal has always been to find a welcoming community with the same environmental and sustainability standards as our own,” Maiman said in a statement. “With this vote of confidence from the Jonesport community, we can move forward knowing that we are welcomed in this community and the residents are engaged in our project.”

William “Bimbo” Look, a lobster dealer and former selectman, was one of more than 60 residents who gathered to hear the proposal at Peabody Memorial Library.

“I urge the selectmen to get right on this proposal,” Look told the community. “We desperately need this company in Jonesport. We shouldn’t waste any time.”

Selectman Dwight Alley called for a show of hands from audience members in support of the Kingfish Zeeland proposal. According to a statement from the company, Alley estimated that 90 percent raised their hands in approval.

“We appreciate Kingfish Zeeland sharing its concept with our community and engaging the residents in the process,” Alley said. “Our town leadership is excited to move forward with the team and work with a company which will bring significant investment and jobs to our region.”

According to a statement, Kingfish Zeeland will now ramp up its site review, engineering studies and construction planning. The Jonesport facility will produce an estimated 6,000 metric tons (about 1.3 million pounds) of “Dutch yellowtail,” or Seriola lalandi, annually after construction is complete. Common names for the species include Pacific yellowtail and yellowtail amberjack.

The company predicted that the first phase of construction should create more than 70 jobs in Jonesport.

The Kingfish Zeeland project is the third RAS fish farm proposed for Downeast Maine.

Whole Oceans is currently developing a nearly $200 million project to grow Atlantic salmon on the site of the former Verso paper mill in Bucksport and expects to break ground after the first of the year.

In Belfast, there has been vigorous opposition to a proposal by Nordic Aquafarms for a substantially larger land-based RAS production facility for Atlantic salmon. The Norwegian company has said it planned to invest some $500 million in the project, which has generated intervention by opponents in the company’s local and state permitting process and at least two lawsuits.

Kingfish Zeeland currently operates a facility in the Dutch province of Zeeland producing antibiotic-free Dutch yellowtail. According to a report in the trade journal Seafood News, production there is currently between 6 and 12 metric tons per week, and the company is selling fish so rapidly that it recently began limiting orders from buyers and, quoting Maiman, “optimizing on price.”

Despite the hectic pace, the company has introduced several new products, including cold-smoked, individual vacuum-packed portions and split fillets, to the market.

According to Kingfish Zeeland, the company is the only yellowtail producer with both Aquaculture Stewardship Council and Best Aquaculture Practices certifications for its environmental and sustainable production methods. The company also has been recommended as a Green Choice from the Good Fish Project and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program.

 

In a telephone call from the Netherlands on Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Maiman talked with the Islander about the company and its management, its plans for Downeast Maine and its expectations for future development. The conversation has been edited for clarity.

How did you come to choose Jonesport?

We searched the East Coast looking for a large site with access to clean seawater, a local seafood industry. An infrastructure backbone, things like experience shipping seafood, was quite critical to us. Jonesport has those, and Maine branding is good for seafood.

We felt quite at home in Jonesport, felt a very warm welcome. We’re not interested in litigation or challenges.

How far has the project advanced?

We currently have a first option on 95 acres in Jonesport for the duration of the permitting process. We have already conducted all the preliminary environmental surveys — wetlands, vernal pools, current flows.

Where is the site located?

I can’t tell you that yet.

What’s next?

We’re now tackling the engineering and technical details on several fronts. We have already talked with DMR (the Department of Marine Resources) and DEP (the Department of Environmental Protection) and our activities in the Netherlands seem to be comfortably in the range of what’s required to get the necessary permits.

What is the anticipated time frame for building the project?

We expect it will take about six months to prepare and file the necessary applications, and the review to take about six months. If all goes well, it should be 12 to 18 months to begin construction (of a hatchery and growout facility). Probably in the spring of 2021.

Will Kingfish Zeeland do its own processing on site?

We prefer to work with a third-party processor. Initially, we probably would deliver round (whole) fish on ice or maybe head-on and gutted. We do have the capacity to do value added if we can’t find a processor.

What is your market for yellowtail?

There are currently two primary markets. The Japanese/Asian fusion market in which yellowtail is the third most popular fish after salmon and tuna. We’re also looking into the “center of the plate” market for smaller fish. We’re being considered by premium retails markets and restaurants because of our sustainable production methods to compete with halibut and Chilean sea bass. Currently, the U.S. imports about 15,000 tons and Europe imports about 7,000 tons, mostly from Japan.

How long does it take to grow yellowtail to market size?

From egg to fingerling — a 1 gram, 1 inch fish — takes about 50 days. After that, it takes 6 to 12 months to raise to grow out depending on the preferred size. For the Italian (cuisine) market it is about four to six months to grow the preferred one to two-pound fish. The 4- to 6-pound fish for shashimi takes about 12 months.

Are yellowtail difficult to grow? Do they need special handling?

The problem with yellowtail is that they require live feeding. To get a start on production we’ll probably start very early to develop a hatchery at a nearby facility then move to our site once it’s built.

Would that facility be the University of Maine Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research (CCAR) in Franklin?

Yes. I can confirm that we’ve begun working with them.

How did you get into the aquaculture business?

I was working in business development for an investment company that, among other things, built gas pipelines in the Middle East. In 2013, I was asked to look into the feasibility of RAS (recirculating aquaculture systems) investments in Europe. I recommended against it, but saw land-based aquaculture as a repeat of the vegetable greenhouses of the 1990s with the capacity to grow the right type of fish for the market. I left my job and went looking for a farmer partner.

What happened next?

I met Kees Kloet, who has 30 years experience in land-based aquaculture. He designed the system we use. We incorporated in 2015, got our permitting done in 2016 and built and opened our current facility in 2017. Last year (2018) we achieved several milestones including having the system work at and above its design level. We closed the cycle (with the entire egg to value added process completed in one facility) and sold out our production.

Stephen Rappaport

Stephen Rappaport

Waterfront Editor at The Ellsworth American
Stephen Rappaport has lived in Maine for nearly 30 years. A lifelong sailor, he spends as much time as possible messing about in boats. [email protected]

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