The DMR terminated the Norwegian-back company’s applications to grow 66 million pounds of Atlantic salmon annually at two sites near Bald Ledge and Long Porcupine Island because American Aquafarms “failed to fulfill its legal obligation to demonstrate an available source of fish to be cultivated at its proposed salmon farms in Frenchman Bay,” according to a statement released by DMR on April 20.
American Aquafarms is asking the court to vacate the DMR’s decision and send the applications back to the department for continued consideration. The DMR, in a statement, said it stands behind its decision to terminate the lease applications.
The reason for termination, according to the DMR, lies in the proposed egg stock that American Aquafarms had listed in its application. “The source of Atlantic salmon proposed by American Aquafarms, AquaBounty of Newfoundland, Canada, did not meet the criteria for a ‘Qualified Source/Hatchery’ as defined in DMR regulations,” and that the company “failed to provide documentation demonstrating that the proposed source of fish/eggs could meet genetic requirements in law.”
American Aquafarms spokesperson Tom Brennan said his company was surprised by the DMR’s decision and believes that “we worked diligently to solve the egg issue.” In fact, said Brennan, the company thought it has solved the issue twice: first when it provided additional data about AquaBounty’s stock and second when it provided a letter from the United States Department of Agriculture that it could access eggs from a federal hatchery in Franklin. “Neither of those options satisfied the department,” said Brennan.
According to the appeal, which was filed in Cumberland Superior Court on May 19, American Aquafarms said the department’s decision was “arbitrary and capricious,” and “unsupported by the evidence before the department.”
The appeal contends that American Aquafarms submitted evidence to support AquaBounty as a “qualified source/hatchery” on March 22, just days before a March 25 deadline given by DMR. “For almost a month, AAF heard nothing from the department. Then on April 19 the Department sent a final decision to AAF indicating that the information provided by AAF was insufficient.”
Also contained in the April 19 letter, contends the court filing, was the “description of a conversation about AAF’s application that took place between [DMR] personnel and the USDA,” which American Aquafarms was not privy to or included in. That, say lawyers representing American Aquafarms, “was a violation of AAF’s Due Process Rights under both the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article 1, Section 6 of the Maine Constitution.”
As for the DMR, they say the “decision was based in regulation and law designed to protect the marine environment.”
If the appeal is unsuccessful, said Brennan, American Aquafarms would resubmit its applications, but the appeal is the company’s last-ditch effort to “keep the [existing] applications alive.”
“We’re not going anywhere,” said Brennan. “We believe we have good technology, plans for a state-of-the-art facility and that the project will bring significant economic opportunity to the region and to the state.”
Last month, American Aquafarms acquired the former Maine Fair Trade Lobster processing plant in Gouldsboro for $3.64 million.
American Aquafarms is owned by Blue Future, a Norway-based group of aquaculture investors. They include American Aquafarms founder Mikael Rønes’ investment company, Global AS, and Amar Group, whose CEO is Bjorn Apeland, among other Norwegian investors.