GOULDSBORO — American Aquafarms reported last week that it had filed two draft lease applications for a closed-pen, Atlantic salmon farm in Frenchman Bay. The proposed two ocean sites, north of Bald Rock and The Hop islands, are in conjunction with the Portland-based company’s plan to buy East Coast Seafood Group’s seafood-processing facilities in Gouldsboro’s Prospect Harbor village. A fish hatchery would be built there as part of the project.
American Aquafarms’ March 3 submission of draft applications are part of the Maine Department of Marine Resources’ multi-step process for considering new aquaculture ventures. DMR has 30 days to determine if the applications meet its standards to proceed to a scoping session. If deemed complete, state authorities next would study the applications, conduct a site visit and hold a public hearing before issuing a final decision.
American Aquafarms CEO Mikael Roenes said the company’s project would result in hundreds of new jobs in the Downeast region. The 100,000-square-foot Maine Fair Trade facility and its wharf would become the base from which the fish farm’s barges and other craft would embark from to tend the Frenchman Bay ocean pens. The harvested fish would be processed on site. The existing warehouse would be converted into a hatchery for producing juvenile salmon and possibly cod to replenish harvested fish.
“Maine is the ideal location for this project,” Roenes said in a March 10 press release. “By leveraging the state’s deep water assets with next-generation, eco-friendly technology to sustainably produce food close to its market, we have the opportunity to set a new standard in the United States. Additionally, we are confident that Maine has the workforce we need to fill the year-round, good-paying jobs we’re creating.”
In Frenchman Bay, American Aquafarms is proposing to use a closed-pen system described as “emergent technology.” For years, fish farms globally have tried largely unsuccessfully to deal with farmed fish escaping from open ocean pens and mixing with the wild species, as well as sea lice and infections treated with antibiotics. In recent years, some closed-pen system designs have been developed in Norway and elsewhere to address these issues.
“American Aquafarms will utilize a closed-pen system that addresses major challenges in the traditional aquaculture industry by controlling waste and preventing escapes,” Roenes said in the March 10 press release. “This emergent technology will complement Maine’s maritime heritage while augmenting production of high-quality, sustainable seafood.”
The world’s top salmon-farming giants Mowi and Cermaq see containment systems as an effective means to control saltwater flow in and out of ocean pens. Both Norwegian companies have been testing the use of “floating pools with impermeable walls” to raise post-smolt juvenile fish, according to a Jan. 15 story in the trade journal Fish Farming Expert.
In Norway, where farmed-salmon and other fish are top exports, Norwegian fisheries minister Odd Emil Ingebrigtsen in recent months touted the use of closed pen-systems to address disease, high mortality and other issues.
“The aquaculture industry contributes to settlement and profitable jobs along the entire coast. Now we want to set the course for the aquaculture industry of the future,” Ingebrigtsen said in a press release. “We want a development that also facilitates closed facilities. Customers are increasingly demanding documentation on sustainability and the environment, and even though we know that Norwegian farmed salmon is one of the healthiest things you can eat, there are still some who overlook that fact.”
Early last fall, Roenes outlined his plan to raise the fish in floating net pens, fitted with polymer-membrane cloth sacks in which fish waste (faeces and feed) collects at the bottom. The waste is pumped to and passes through an attached filtration unit before being discharged at sufficient depth into the sea.
After unveiling its plan publicly in Gouldsboro Oct. 16, American Aquafarms’ proposed Frenchman Bay operation sparked immediate alarm and staunch opposition from Hancock residents who objected to the proposed operation’s scale in a waterbody where half a dozen towns’ lobster fishermen compete for prime sea floor to lay their traps. The opponents pointed out several dozen small-scale farms cultivate mussels, oysters and seaweed there too. Come summer, all size and form of recreational craft use the bay from sailboats and kayakers to outboard boats and sightseeing vessels. A ferry also provides seasonal passenger service between Winter Harbor and Bar Harbor.
“This is simply a matter of the wrong place, the wrong technology and the wrong people,” Hancock resident James Paterson said in a Jan. 18 press release. He also noted American Aquafarms’ proximity to Acadia National Park. “This project represents the industrialization of a pristine bay in the shadow of Acadia National Park. It is a totally inappropriate place for this kind of development — it’s like putting a large factory at the foot of Cadillac Mountain.”