American Aquafarms wants to build a processing plant and hatchery in Gouldsboro. Image: American Aquafarms.

Town votes to delay salmon plant planning decision

American Aquafarms, which hopes to grow 30,000 tonnes of salmon in floating semi-closed cages off the coast of Maine, has been dealt a blow by local residents.

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Citizens in Gouldsboro have voted for a six-month freeze on any aquaculture development in the municipality. The decision halts the review and issuance of municipal permits for American Aquafarms, which wants to build a salmon processing facility and hatchery on the site of a disused lobster packing factory.

The Ellsworth American website reported that around 250 locals turned up at a public meeting held by the Town of Gouldsboro to vote on the proposed moratorium that is intended to give town planners time to review and possibly propose amendments to the town’s comprehensive plan as well as its land use, site plan, subdivision and shoreland zoning ordinances that currently do not address finfish aquaculture development.

According to the website, nearly everyone in the room backed the proposed freeze, with only four voting against it.

Opposed to sites

John M Glowa Snr, who identified himself as previously having worked in enforcement for the Maine Department of Marine Resources for 30 years, was granted permission by voters to speak as a non-resident.

Glowa, who hopes to become state governor next year, opposes American Aquafarms’ plan to locate two 15-pen sites near Bald Rock Ledge and off Long Porcupine Island in Frenchman Bay.

“I would like folks to know that I would like to help them through this regulatory process in any way I can,” the Ellsworth American reported Glowa saying.

‘A clear message’

Robert Nichols, a lawyer and seasonal resident who has advised the Gouldsboro SelectBoard, said: “I think the unanimous vote tonight should send a clear message that Gouldsboro does not want to be a testing ground for unproven technologies and for foreign investors to get rich from the natural resources that belong to all residents.” The board of selectmen or selectboard is a term used for the executive arm of municipal governments in New England.

Gouldsboro’s municipal government is taking other steps to address the American Aquafarms proposal. It will:

  • Exercise its own permitting jurisdiction to the maximum extent practicable and will hear from its citizenry before deciding whether to issue permits to American Aquafarm.
  • Intervene in the lease process of Maine’s Department of Marine Resources and the permitting process of Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection.
  • Intervene in the permitting process of the US Army Corps of Engineers and ask the Corps to perform an Environmental Impact Statement.

It has also engaged the law firm of Rudman Winchell to advise on State and Municipal permitting issues and the law firm Nichols Liu to advise on Federal permitting issues.

Gouldsboro is a town and municipality of approximately 1,750 people in Hancock County, Maine. The town has many historically separate fishing villages, summer colonies and communities.

Already used in Norway

Nichols’ assertion that American Aquafarms would be using unproven technologies is questionable. The Norwegian-owned company plans to use semi-closed containment systems (SCCS) supplied by Ecomerden, which already has large - 30,000m³ - SCCS in use by fish farmers in Norway.

One difference is that the SCCS in Norway have been used for post-smolts, not for harvest-sized fish. Another is that American Aquafarms plans to capture the waste from its pens and use it to make energy and fertiliser, rather than releasing it into the sea.

American Aquafarms has been contacted for comment.