GOULDSBORO — American Aquafarms officials say the Norwegian-backed company’s closing on East Coast Seafood’s Maine Fair Trade facility “is imminent.” The exact date has not been announced. A new CEO, to succeed American Aquafarms founder Mikael Roenes, is expected to be named later this week.
The company’s news comes as Gouldsboro’s Planning Board is set to hear public sentiment — support or opposition — to a proposed ordinance that would immediately halt for six months any related municipal permits sought for finfish aquaculture development encompassing 10 acres or more in coastal waters. The public hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 19, in the Prospect Harbor Women’s Club.
Rudman Winchell attorney Tim Pease, whom the Gouldsboro Select Board engaged last month, assisted the Planning Board in drawing up the 180-day “Town of Gouldsboro Moratorium Ordinance — Aquaculture Development” that townspeople will weigh in on at the hearing. He says the proposed moratorium ordinance would be retroactive to Sept. 16, 2021, which is the date when the Select Board directed the Planning Board to draw up the ordinance.
After getting public input Oct. 19, the Planning Board is expected the same night to vote on whether to recommend to the Select Board that the proposed ordinance be put to the town’s registered voters for a final say at a yet-to-be-scheduled special town meeting this fall.
“If the currently worded draft moratorium passes, it would pause any application made after Sept. 16, 2021, that falls under the definition of [finfish] aquaculture development” in the ordinance, Pease told The American.
If the six-month ordinance passes at a special town meeting, the Select Board would have the option before its expiration to renew it for another 180 days after holding a public hearing. To justify the renewal, the board would have to show that “reasonable progress” had been made thus far to address issues posed by 10-acre-plus finfish aquaculture ventures seeking to make the town their base for servicing ocean pens and processing their harvest.
“Our responsibility starts at the shore — not the ocean,” Select Board Chairman Dana Rice stressed at the regular Oct. 7 meeting. He was referring to the fact that Maine’s Marine Resources and Environmental Protection departments and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have jurisdiction over proposed aquaculture projects in state waters.
As it stands now, the DEP is scheduled to hold an online hearing from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 28, to hear public comment about American Aquafarms’ separate license applications to discharge more than 25,000 gallons of diluted wastewater per day at each of the Norwegian-backed company’s two proposed 15-pen sites west of Long Porcupine Island and northeast of Bald Rock Ledge. American Aquafarms’ DEP application was deemed complete June 9, initiating the state agency’s formal review of the company’s proposed Blue Ocean Technology system to discharge filtered fluid from its two sites.
At present, the DMR still has not found American Aquafarms’ applications to be complete and the state agency therefore has not commenced its formal review of the company’s plans to lease the two Frenchman Bay sites for up to 20 years.
American Aquafarms Director of Project Development Tom Brennan said Gouldsboro’s possible prohibition on finfish aquaculture development for six months has not diminished the company’s interest in acquiring Massachusetts-based East Coast Seafood’s closed Maine Fair Trade complex in Prospect Harbor. He noted the facility’s history of seafood processing dating back 115 years. He confirmed “the closing is imminent.”
“We believe it should be restored to the economic engine it once was for the community,” Brennan said Tuesday. “Our project will complement Maine’s maritime heritage, while producing high-quality, sustainable seafood. However the town of Gouldsboro chooses to move forward on a moratorium, we will continue to work as a partner to enact ordinances that protect their interests and allows for businesses to bring increased investments and jobs to the community.”
Gouldsboro already is the home base for small-scale oyster and seaweed-farming operations. The moratorium ordinance, however, would only apply to finfish aquaculture development. South Gouldsboro-based Springtide Seaweed proprietor Sarah Redmond, who grows alaria, dulse and sugar and skinny kelps in Frenchman Bay, noted the distinction, saying she read the draft ordinance at the Select Board’s Oct. 7 meeting and “thought it would be OK” and not affect her operation. Sitting beside Redmond was Corea oyster and seaweed farmer Joe Young, who also did not express objections to the moratorium.
As grounds for its adoption, the draft ordinance notes an unprecedented aquaculture operation including a fish hatchery — exceeding the size and scope of prior ventures — is currently being proposed in Gouldsboro. The document also cites the fact that the town’s comprehensive plan has not been updated since 2005 and other existing ordinances do not address such development.
“Without appropriate regulation, such facilities and development could pose a threat to the quality of life and the health and safety of town residents…,” the seven-part draft ordinance cautions. “Such facilities and development could cause a shortage and overburdening of public facilities such as water, roads and public safety.”
Earlier this year, Gouldsboro’s Comprehensive Plan Committee Chairwoman Deborah Bisson and members commenced their review of the 2005 plan. The Planning Board also is charged with scrutinizing the town’s land use, site plan, subdivision and shoreland zoning ordinances. Any suggested changes will require public hearings and town meeting votes to implement, and their adoption will take time.
Gouldsboro’s initiative to float the finfish aquaculture development moratorium ordinance for voters’ consideration is in response to a mounting, year-long campaign by numerous local and seasonal residents as well as commercial fishermen in opposition to American Aquafarms’ proposed Atlantic salmon-processing facility in town and on Frenchman Bay. Their many concerns include overwhelming the town’s present infrastructure, the degradation of water quality in Frenchman Bay and potential harm to the community’s century-plus lobster fishery and top industry. Greater use of the town’s roads, water supply, public safety personnel and other resources are other issues.
Attempting to alleviate some fears, Planning Board Chairman Ray Jones said the town’s present site plan ordinance does address many of those issues.
“Ninety percent of the questions you have are part of the [current] site plan application,” Jones told citizens at the Planning Board’s Oct. 5 meeting.