An illustration of Nordic Aquafarms' planned salmon RAS facility in Belfast, Maine. A court ruling has put a question mark over the company's right to use a parcel of land to lay inlet and outlet pipes to Penobscot Bay.

Supreme Court ruling deals major blow to US salmon RAS

Decision is another setback for Nordic Aquafarms in long journey to build 33,000-tonne on-land farm in Maine


Nordic Aquafarms Inc., which is planning a 33,000-tonne on-land salmon farm in Belfast, Maine, in the northeast of the US, has suffered a major legal setback.

The state’s Supreme Court has ruled that intertidal land required for the laying of inlet and outlet pipes between the farm site and the sea belongs to homeowners who have sided with opponents of the project.

Nordic, which has the support of the City of Belfast, must now rely on a favourable result in an outstanding court case challenging the legality of a compulsory purchase of the intertidal land by the City.

“The intertidal ownership issue will return to the City of Belfast eminent domain (compulsory purchase) case, which had been stayed pending this [Supreme Court] ruling. The intertidal mud flats on which this process is focused, is property now owned by the City,” Nordic said in a press release.

“This decision today by the law court is disappointing and we are evaluating all options, not least of which is the eminent domain action already taken by the City,” said Brenda Chandler, interim chief executive of Nordic Aquafarms Inc., yesterday.

Public use

The Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution requires that the taking of property by eminent domain must be for a “public use” and mandates payment of just compensation to the owner.

Nordic said plans include Belfast Parks & Recreation having a notable addition of public access to the water via the land under which the fish farmer plans to lay its pipes.

“As a future public park, the Poor-Eckrote legacy (the land) will be the City of Belfast’s southernmost access point to the water, offering new possibilities for water recreation. Additionally, the Little River Trail, which had previously been owned by Belfast Water District, will be preserved in perpetuity for future generations.”

Chandler said: “In addition to more opportunity for water recreation in the Little River area, the Poor-Eckrote land has wonderful potential for becoming a unique area of respite for our community.”

Organised opposition

Nordic first announced plans for a recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) salmon farm in Belfast in 2018, but has been opposed every step of the way by the group Upstream Watch.

In a statement on its website about its litigation activity, Upstream Watch says that it “continues to fight Nordic on many levels including the TRI (ownership of the intertidal), eminent domain (the City of Belfast taking private land and giving it to Nordic for their pipes) and our recent second round of briefs to the Maine Supreme Court appealing the Board of Environmental Protection (BEP) permitting process”.

Nordic Aquafarms Inc. is the US subsidiary of Norwegian-owned Nordic Aquafarms Group, a company majority-owned by Rasmussen Group AS, originally founded as a ship owning company in 1936 and still owned by members of the Rasmussen family.

Nordic has full permitting for its facility in Belfast and had expected to start work this year.

The company is making progress with permitting for another 33,000-tonne RAS salmon farm on the Samoa Peninsula, in Humboldt, northern California. As in Belfast, Nordic has the support of the local authority.

Each farm is expected to cost between $500 million-$600 million.