PORTLAND — American Aquafarms earlier this week abandoned its lawsuit challenging the Maine Department of Marine Resources’ April dismissal of the Norwegian-backed company’s incomplete lease applications to raise 66 million Atlantic salmon at 60-acre sites off Bald Rock Ledge and Long Porcupine Island in Frenchman Bay.
The DMR’s action prompted the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to halt its review of the company’s two completed applications on the grounds that the project was not pending.
Representing American Aquafarms, the Portland-based law firm Archipelago petitioned Cumberland County Superior Court to dismiss its lawsuit on Tuesday, July 25. As an intervenor supporting the DMR’s April 21 termination of the company’s lease application, Frenchman Bay United consented to the appeal’s withdrawal.
Frenchman Bay United, a coalition encompassing seven Frenchman Bay towns and various groups, hailed American Aquafarms’ decision to drop its lawsuit. The suit had charged that DMR’s termination of its application was “arbitrary and capricious” after its submission of documentation supporting Newfoundland’s AquaBounty as a “Qualified Source/Hatchery” of Atlantic salmon eggs before a deadline set by the state agency.
The company further contended that DMR staff had violated its constitutional right to due process by excluding the company from or disclosing the agency’s communications with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA’s National Cold-Water Agricultural Center in Franklin had been submitted as an alternative source of salmon eggs.
“We have always believed that DMR made the right decision in refusing to accept the company’s lease applications and that this lawsuit had little merit,” Frenchman Bay United Board President Henry Sharpe said Tuesday in a press release. “We again call on American Aquafarms to end any plans it may have to reapply for permits for this or other destructive and highly polluting projects.”
In its campaign against the proposed 120-acre fish farm, Frenchman Bay United’s own independent scientific studies presented a starkly different picture than the applicant’s studies of the project’s long-term impact on the health of Frenchman Bay as an ecosystem and source of income for hundreds of lobster fishermen in the seven towns and tourism-related enterprises. The industrial-scale operation’s impact on Acadia National Park was another major issue.
“We hope that this is the end for American Aquafarms, but we remain vigilant and ready to challenge any subsequent applications they may file that would jeopardize Maine’s brand: clean water, thriving natural habitats, pristine wilderness and a robust, owner-operated working waterfront,” Sharpe said. “We’ll also continue to push science-based policies for legislative and regulatory change that champion the same virtues, ones that prevent the industrialization of our iconic coastline.”
Reached in Milbridge, where he stays overnight while working out of his company’s newly acquired facility in Prospect Harbor, American Aquafarms’ Project Development Manager Tom Brennan said the lawsuit was withdrawn to make a fresh start. He says the company is committed to developing an aquaculture venture, but it doesn’t make sense to fight the governing agency.
“When you want to find a solution, don’t sue the person you want to have the conversation with. We don’t want conflict, we want conversation. Otherwise, there’s no path forward.”
Brennan said American Aquafarms plans to continue exploring fish-farming opportunities in Maine in keeping with Governor Janet Mills’ 10-year economic development plan that touts aquaculture in varying forms as a promising, sustainable industry. He said the company plans to hold onto the former Maine Fair Trade Lobster plant in Prospect Harbor. He also will continue to hold office hours there at least once a week.