HANCOCK — Frenchman Bay Conservancy has formally requested that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conduct an environmental review and issue a statement under the U.S. Environmental Policy Act before any final decisions are made on American Aquafarms’ plan to raise 66 million pounds of Atlantic salmon annually at two sites in Frenchman Bay.
Frenchman Bay Conservancy has preserves totaling 8,000 acres in a dozen Maine towns and townships, including seven Hancock County communities.
The Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) is currently reviewing for completeness American Aquafarms’ March 3 lease applications to grow salmon at two 15-pen sites northwest of Long Porcupine Island and northeast of Bald Rock Ledge in Frenchman Bay. The Norwegian-backed company is expected to file by month’s end its wastewater discharge permit application to discharge a total of 4 billion gallons daily with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The company is proposing to release 2 billion gallons daily (23,775 gallons per second) at each of the 15-pen sites.
Sent to the U.S. Army Corps’ Senior Project Manager and Team Leader Jay Clement in Augusta, Frenchman Bay Conservancy’s May 17 letter was also signed by Hancock’s Crabtree Neck Land Trust, the Downeast Salmon Federation, the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries in Stonington, Friends of Acadia, Friends of Frenchman Bay, Friends of Eastern Bay, Friends of Schoodic Peninsula as well as Springtide Seaweed LLC, Frenchman Bay Oyster Co. owner Graham Platner, Maine Coast Sea Vegetables proprietors Shep and Seraphina Erhart, Hancock fishermen Zach and Tyler Piper, MDI Biological Laboratory senior scientist Jane Disney and College of the Atlantic biologist Chris Peterson.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regulates construction and other projects in navigable U.S. waters. Clement heads the Maine Project Office in the Corps of Engineers’ New England District Regulatory Division. For decades, he and others have studied and assessed proposed aquaculture ventures in coastal Maine ranging from oyster cultivation in Bar Harbor’s Thomas Bay to mussel farming in Blue Hill Bay.
“The proposal [American Aquafarms] is generating a significant amount of controversy across a broad spectrum of stakeholders who live and work around the bay. Our understanding is the large size and unproven technology of the proposed industrial-scale farm are without precedent in the world’s commercial fisheries,” Frenchman Bay Conservancy’s letter reads. “Significant environmental, economic, and governance issues are being raised about the proposed project that have not been vetted previously by the state and federal regulators mandated to review and approve the required permit applications.”
In its letter, FBC and the other entities and individuals questioned the scale of American Aquafarms’ operation, noting that its projected production represents 85 percent more than U.S. production of farm raised Atlantic salmon totaling 35.7 million pounds in 2016. They questioned whether the proposed, semi-closed pens had been used for such a large operation commercially elsewhere in the world. That Frenchman Bay already has longstanding fisheries as well as small-scale, sustainable oyster and seaweed farms was another issue. Concern also was expressed about the salmon farm’s visual, sound and lighting impact on vacationers to Acadia National Park and coastal communities who rely on the tourism industry for revenue and jobs.
In addition, they questioned the large-scale fish farm’s impact on the Gulf of Maine, where the water temperature is said to be warming faster than any other large water body in the world.
“We believe the potential adverse economic and ecological consequences of the proposed salmon farm are extensive and necessitate a comprehensive study of the impacts,” the letter concludes. “We request, therefore, that an Environmental Impact Statement pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act be required prior to the rendering of any final decision on the American Aquafarms permit applications.”