GOULDSBORO — American Aquafarms’ Project Development Director Tom Brennan has a key to the closed Maine Fair Trade plant. Brennan says the power, heat and Wi-Fi are all on in the Prospect Harbor facility that has not yet changed hands. He says the Norwegian-backed company is planning to launch its series of online “Community Conversations” in coming weeks.
In addition, Brennan said American Aquafarms took down its website weeks ago. A new site has been designed and will be launched in the near future.
Reached late last week while driving from Prospect Harbor to southern Maine, Brennan said it’s his understanding that American Aquafarms is close to resolving the issue of sourcing juvenile Atlantic salmon or smolt for the startup phase of its proposed $250 million project. The company plans to eventually construct a fish hatchery at the shuttered Maine Fair Trade facility. If the project is approved, the salmon will be grown to market size in pens in Frenchman Bay.
“That issue is nearing resolution,” he said Jan. 6, saying the company now had a “Plan A and Plan B” for sourcing juvenile Atlantic salmon for its three-phase startup of the Bald Rock and Long Porcupine sites.
Brennan said, “I know it’s [juvenile salmon sourcing] the final impediment to completeness” of American Aquafarms’ two draft applications.
In the project’s first stage, one of Norwegian manufacturer Ecomerden AS’s semi-closed Eco-Cages would be installed and stocked with salmon at just one of the two proposed sites. A total of eight of these floating cages would be erected and stocked at the completion of the first phase taking two years, according to American Aquafarms’ two draft lease applications for each site at www.maine.gov/dmr/aquaculture/leases.
Last September, Maine Department of Marine Resources Aquaculture Division Director Marcy Nelson formally informed the company that its proposed source, U.S.-owned AquaBounty Canada, had not applied for a permit to supply juvenile salmon for use in coastal waters and therefore lacked standing as an approved source. In a Sept. 27, 2021, letter, Nelson said her agency “has never reviewed or provided an import permit for Atlantic salmon originating from AquaBounty.” She said American Aquafarms’ lease applications for its two 60-acre sites in Frenchman Bay lacked sufficient information about AquaBounty Canada and whether it could meet Maine state regulations governing the import of live marine organisms. Under state law, the DMR can ban the import of marine organisms that “if introduced to coastal waters could endanger indigenous marine life or its environment.”
As of this week, American Aquafarms’ two applications remain incomplete, according to the DMR’s Communications Director Jeff Nichols. He said the company still had not provided an acceptable source of juvenile fish and the state agency’s regulatory review of its project remains suspended. He said the agency is not under any deadline to resume its review and the applications are not at risk of expiring.
“There’s no timeline established in regulation,” Nichols said Monday. “However, we’ll work with the applicant to ensure a reasonable deadline for completion of the required steps.”
If and when the DMR finds American Aquafarms’ applications to be complete, Nichols said the next step will be for DMR staff to visit the Frenchman Bay sites. The timing, however, may be determined by other aquaculture projects already in line for site visits. He said, “It’s important to note that we do site reviews at times that allow us to gain an understanding of existing uses, environmental conditions and flora/fauna.”
Headquartered in Maynard, Mass., AquaBounty is credited with having produced the world’s first genetically modified Atlantic salmon at Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Called AquAdvantage, the company’s achievement represented a major milestone in the global aquaculture industry because its engineered salmon grow at a much faster pace to market size — half the time — than it takes for non-engineered farm salmon. AquAdvantage salmon, which were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for consumption in 2015, are currently raised at AquaBounty hatcheries at its land-based salmon farms in Indiana and Rollo Bay on Prince Edward Island. Located in Albany, Ind., the land-based farm harvested its first crop of AquAdvantage salmon in 2020.
AquaBounty, a publicly held company currently owned by Virginia-based TS AquaCulture, LLC, has plans for an industrial-scale salmon farm in Pioneer, Ohio.