GOULDSBORO — Late last week, Hancock County residents got an abstract picture of how American Aquafarms would draw and discharge sea water and dispose of waste from its proposed operation in Frenchman Bay.
But when citizens asked, the Norwegian-backed company failed to specify by whom and exactly where in the world the closed-pen technology is being used in real time commercially to grow and successfully harvest Atlantic salmon for the global market.
At a three-hour-plus online public meeting last week, American Aquafarms Vice President Eirik Jors, Portland-headquartered Ransom Consulting Engineers and Scientists’ Senior Project Manager Elizabeth Ransom and civil engineer and computer modeler Nathan Dill provided a detailed blueprint showing how American Aquafarms would discharge a total of 2 billion gallons of circulated water (23,775 gallons per second) daily from the two 15-pen sites northwest of Long Porcupine Island and northeast of Bald Rock Ledge in Frenchman Bay.
Last fall, Ransom did extensive manual and remote sensor testing in Frenchman Bay, which is about 15 miles long and 7 miles wide, to gauge the potential environmental impacts of the proposed salmon farm’s use and release of seawater there to raise as much as 66 million pounds of Atlantic salmon annually. Computer modeling and statistical techniques were used to analyze the hydrologic data and predict outcomes inshore and in distant reaches of the bay.
Ben Walter owns Acadia Oceanside Meadows Inn in the Gouldsboro village of Corea. He was among 171 people who attended the meeting in a webinar format in which only the meeting hosts’ faces were visible. Acadia National Park, Friends of Acadia, Frenchman Bay Conservancy, Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory, Downeast Salmon Federal Federation, Friends of Frenchman Bay, Friends of Eastern Bay, Friends of Schoodic Peninsula and Protect Maine’s Fishing Heritage Foundation were represented.
“Are your numbers essentially best guesses? Why can’t you move your pens offshore?” Walter asked. “It seems you are experimenting with the bay and the lives in our community.”
“I think it is naïve to believe that there is not going to be any biological change in the bay,” Ann Sharpe remarked. “Just the mass of fish in an enclosed system. I don’t see how there isn’t going to be a temperature change.”
The May 6 public meeting was held by American Aquafarms, as the company is required to do by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), in light of its impending Maine wastewater discharge permit application.
Jors said Norway’s Blue Ocean Technology designed the Frenchman Bay project’s wastewater treatment system from technology refined through finfish aquaculture over many years. He noted the system’s sediment trap captures 90 percent of the fish waste consisting of feces and residual nutrients.
He explained the waste is pumped up to and passes through a central waste bin on a barge before being transported to the mainland. The material is recycled into biproducts such as biogas and fertilizer. He added that the salmon feed is made from fish meal and fish and plant oils and does not contain any hormones, antibiotics, palm oil, the chemical PCB or genetically modified foods (GMOs).
In the freshwater hatchery, which American Aquafarms would construct at Maine Fair Trade’s seafood processing complex in Prospect Harbor, Jors said salmon eggs would be decontaminated and vaccinated for viral and bacterial infections to ensure the juvenile “fish are healthy and minimize disease” before being transferred to the ocean pens.
In addition, Jors said American Aquafarms’ proposed Eco-cages are equipped with a robotic device for systematically cleaning the pens. Cleaning agents as well as medications for treating the farmed salmon must be listed in the DEP permit. Should any illnesses arise, the Frenchman Bay farm and a licensed veterinarian would be required to jointly formulate a treatment plan and seek authorization from state authorities.
Speaking to the daily discharge of 2 billion gallons of seawater, Dill and Ransom staff studied the filtered water’s dispersal, dilution and drift over time in waters surrounding the proposed 60-acre fish farm and the entire bay. They estimated the 2 billion gallons discharged daily would be diluted a dozen times in Frenchman Bay. They also calculated the amount of nitrogen and other elements released as part of the discharge. In the case of nitrogen, they determined the amount was 2,300 pounds — far below the permitted volume under state law.
“Without degrading the water quality, you could add 13,000 pounds of nitrogen and that would bring you right to that threshold,” Dill said, noting the 2,300 pounds of nitrogen anticipated. “So, we are well below the 20 percent capacity threshold.”
Holly Faubel of Belfast took issue with Dill’s estimate, saying the amount does not include the nitrogen that the fish release naturally in liquid form through their gills. She also questioned the origin of American Aquafarms’ broodstock and whether it was genetically modified.
Elizabeth Ransom responded to both questions, saying the Maine Department of Marine Resources requires the fish farm’s broodstock to match the genetic code of species found off the Maine coast. On the issue of nitrogen, she told Faubel she was “spot-on that nitrogen certainly is present in liquid form. What you are going to see is the nitrogen levels are quite low and discharged at a level that’s not going to do any harm.”
DEP Deputy Commissioner David Madore told Islander earlier this week that American Aquafarms is expected to submit its wastewater discharge permit application in late May. Once that happens, the public has up to 20 days to request in writing that a public hearing be held. Holding a hearing is discretionary. Such requests should be made within the prescribed time frame to the Division of Water Resource Regulation, Department of Environmental Protection, State House Station #17, Augusta, ME 04333. For more info on the regulatory process, call 287-3901.
A copy then will be available for the public’s review at the Gouldsboro Town Office. Madore said the agency must determine whether the application is complete before deciding whether to hold a public hearing.