An illustration of American Aquafarms' planned processing plant in Goldsboro, Maine.

Campaign group seeks to sink Maine salmon farm project

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US-based campaign group Oceana has launched a petition to support a bill that would block plans for a 30,000-tonnes-per-year capacity semi-closed containment salmon farm in the north-eastern state of Maine.

The bill, L.D. 1951, is currently being considered by the State of Maine Legislature and would limit cage density to 25 kg per cubic metre.

If it was passed into law, the bill would force a rethink and possibly abandonment of American Aquafarms’ plan for a farm in Frenchman Bay, which Oceana says would have a density of up to 40 kg/m³ and a total biomass of 18,400 tonnes split between two sites. The bill is being sponsored by Senator Nicole Grohoski, who represents Hancock County where the farming operation would be based.

Senator Nicole Grohoski has sponsored a bill to introduce fish density limits in Maine farms.

The farm project has already been stalled by Maine’s Department of Marine Resources, which terminated the company’s lease applications in April last year because of a lack of an approved ova source.

And earlier this month American Aquafarms' chief executive Keith Decker resigned. It has since been reported that he is seeking to sell his share in a facility the company planned to use for its processing operations as compensation for $1.125 million that he said the company owes him.

Bigger farm, bigger risk

However, Oceana wants a law in place to make certain that the American Aquafarms plan or similar projects are blocked.

“By setting strict limits on the density of the fish in the pens, we can prevent monster fish farms from ever being considered in Maine’s waters,” said Oceana campaign director Matt Dundas in a press release.

“To put it simply, the bigger the farm, the bigger the risk. The only way to ensure that projects like this never move forward in the future is by setting clear limits now. It is vital that bill L.D. 1951 passes to ensure the future of Maine’s coastal way of life is protected.”

Matt Dundas said Oceana is opposed to "monster fish farms", but not to all salmon farming.

In a report on the project, Oceana says that the farm would release 4.1 billion gallons of polluted wastewater into Frenchman Bay every day, and that “massive salmon farms like this have also been known to invite disease and parasites, which often require vast amounts of pesticides and harmful chemicals”.

Missing facts

However, Oceana, which received cash and commitments totalling $39 million in 2021, failed to mention that more than 80% of the waste from the farm would be collected and used to generate power and/or make fertiliser, and that semi-closed containment would eliminate most, or all, of the problems open net pen farms have with sea lice and algal blooms.

The report also stated that salmon farmer Cermaq Canada halted a trial of a technology similar to the system proposed by American Aquafarms due to water quality issues leading to fish mortality, raising serious questions about the technology.

But it failed to say that Cermaq has been using the same technology successfully in Norway, and that Cermaq Canada has now started a second trial after making alterations to the equipment – something the company confirmed to Fish Farming Expert last August.

Dundas told Fish Farming Expert that Oceana is not attempting to ban all marine salmon farming in Maine, but believed it was a risky practice and that the non-profit organisation supported robust regulations to protect ocean ecosystems and economies.

Read the Oceana report here.