GOULDSBORO — The tastiness of the refreshments was the one undisputed topic at a lively, open-air meeting held Saturday by both American Aquafarms and opponents of the Norwegian-backed company’s proposed plan to raise 66 million pounds of Atlantic salmon annually at two sites in Frenchman Bay.
“No Industrial Scale Fish Factory in Frenchman Bay” was among the roadside banners and signs at the Gouldsboro Town Park, where the company and opponents offered information to the public at opposite ends of the green.
In the Gouldsboro park’s gazebo, American Aquafarms hired local caterers Donna Harmon and Brenda Clough, who put on a lavish spread of baked goods, desserts and light luncheon fare that caused the more 100 people in attendance to mingle and converse. Still, exchanges with the company’s Project Manager Tom Brennan often were heated over many issues — from housing and truck traffic to workers’ wages and water pollution.
Sorrento resident Lynn Stone questioned American Aquafarms’ mindfulness of the community and coastal environment given that the company’s foreign owners don’t live locally or have a personal stake or any “real skin” in the venture. She challenged the company to partner with the state’s Downeast communities on a low-impact, sustainable model for fish-farming. “We need to build a community in Maine, where everyone is together to care for our environment,” Stone said.
Brennan responded favorably, saying such a partnership might be feasible. He pledged to share her visions and thoughts with company officials. The project manager was the sole company official present to interact with concerned citizens who turned out from Gouldsboro, Hancock, Lamoine, Sorrento, Belfast and other towns. Friends of Schoodic Peninsula, Friends of Frenchman Bay and Friends of Eastern Bay were among the groups represented.
Brennan was joined by a Cianbro Corp. civil and environmental engineer, Craig Weaver. The Pittsfield-based contractor is advising American Aquafarms on the design process, timeline and logistics and other pre-construction work in the project involving the acquisition and conversion of Maine Fair Trade’s Prospect Harbor plant to salmon-processing and construction of a freshwater hatchery there. A 144-foot vessel, assisted by a smaller boat, would deliver fish feed, fuel and juvenile fish (smolt) and service the floating pens about 15 miles away by water in Frenchman Bay.
Longtime South Gouldsboro lobsterman Frank Hammond has fished for decades in “The Hop,” an area northwest of Long Porcupine Island, where one of American Aquafarms’ sites would be located. He estimates about 15 to 20 lobstermen fish there from South Gouldsboro, Hancock, Sorrento and Lamoine. He and the other potentially affected fishermen asked the company officials to find an alternative lease site at multiple meetings last fall and winter. To his knowledge, no change was made at the deep-water site. The water there meets the temperature criteria critical for salmon-farming.
“I am dead against it. There is nothing to gain from this,” Hammond said at Saturday’s event. “The fishermen will never go for it if they’re going raise the fish in The Hop.”
Another South Gouldsboro lobsterman, Jerry Potter, echoed Hammond. He has fished The Hop for 60 years, lobstering and shrimping. He notes the site is where shrimp go to spawn in a deep basin there. He also thinks that American Aquafarms’ vessels will wreak havoc when they make their way from Prospect Harbor around Schoodic Point, navigating through the maze of lobster gear set along the shoreline, to reach Frenchman Bay.
“That area is loaded with traps. I can’t even imagine it,” he said. “I am 100 percent against it. It is going to be a lot of noise, a lot of pollution, round the clock.”
Springtide Seaweed LLC founder Sarah Redmond organically grows four species of kelp on deep-water longlines near South Gouldsboro’s Stave Island in Frenchman Bay. She says any water-quality degradation could jeopardize her premium products’ organic certification. Like herself, the seaweed farmer noted other young people are running and starting small, sustainable aquaculture enterprises throughout coastal Maine. In her view, establishing industrial-scale farms is not the right direction to preserve the marine resource.
“I do think it’s a threat to my ability to operate and produce clean, healthy seafood,” she said Saturday. “We really rely on the health of Frenchman Bay.”
The Maine Department of Marine Resources and Maine Department of Environmental Protection recently found American Aquafarms’ two draft lease applications to be “adequate” (but not complete) for the company’s two proposed 15-pen ocean sites northwest of Long Porcupine Island and northeast of Bald Rock Ledge in Frenchman Bay. DMR, therefore, is advancing the regulatory process and will hold a scoping session via Zoom starting at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 23. The online session’s intent is for the public to ask questions and comment on the leases. Written comments also may be sent electronically via https://www.maine.gov/dmr/aquaculture/index.html or by mail to the DMR in Augusta no later than 5 p.m. July 7.