More Atlantic salmon coming to Maine, but not from the sea

ELLSWORTH — A Norwegian company is planning to build a vast new land-based aquaculture facility to grow Atlantic salmon in eastern Maine.

Last week, Nordic Aquafarms announced that it would build a land-based salmon farm on a 40-acre site outside of Belfast. To be developed in phases, the facility would ultimately have the capacity to raise 33,000 tons (66 million pounds) of Atlantic salmon annually — about 8 percent of current salmon consumption in the United States.

According to Erik Heim, Nordic’s CEO, the Belfast project will require a total capital investment between $450 million and $500 million by the time it is complete. The first phase will involve investments of up to $150 million. That should not be a problem for Nordic which, Heim said recently, already has “$50 million in risk capital” in the company.

“We’re lucky to have experienced capital market people on board,” Heim said in a telephone conversation at the end if January while traveling from Belfast back to his home in Norway. “We’re lucky to have a financially strong shareholder group.”

Nordic’s plans call for building an “end-to-end” facility that includes all phases of salmon production from hatchery to final processing for market. The company has signed agreements to buy 40 acres off Route 1 south of Belfast. Some of the property is owned by the Belfast Water District and some by a private landowner.

Part of the land the company is acquiring will give it access to a long-disused reservoir owned by the water district.

With those agreements in place, Nordic Aquafarms now intends to move ahead with its final due diligence, planning and permitting for the facility. Construction is planned to begin in 2019 and the first phase could produce as many as 60 high-skill jobs.

According to Heim, the first phase of the project, with a 13,000-ton production capacity, will be the largest land-based aquaculture facility ever built in a single construction phase. It will house what the company said would be the largest aquaculture tanks in the world and utilize “new disruptive solutions” for its recirculating aquaculture system.

Heim said Nordic’s choice of Belfast was the end product of “an extensive search for a good site” to build a U.S. production facility. It was hard to find a good match.

Over the course of nearly a year, Heim traveled “from Washington, D.C., to Maine” and eventually chose Belfast, and Maine, shortly before Christmas.

“Everything came together. We developed very good rapport,” with the Belfast community and city officials, Heim said.

Heim said he hopes the Nordic Aquafarm project will be just “a piece of the puzzle” of building Maine into what he called a “seafood state” that supports a significant land-based aquaculture industry.

“It’s a possibility,” he said, “if more companies see the light of day in Maine and in recirculating aquaculture systems.”

Another Norwegian-owned salmon farmer has seen the light of day but in Florida, not Maine.

Atlantic Sapphire is currently in the process of developing a land-based recirculating aquaculture facility in Dade County near Miami with a planned production capacity of 90,000 metric tons of salmon.

According to published reports, the production capacity for the first phase of that project will be about 10,000 metric tons. The first harvest is currently slated for sometime after the middle of 2020. If completed as planned, the facility would increase current salmon production in the United States fivefold.

Heim will be returning to Belfast to take part in a public meeting to answer questions about the project and its impact on the community. The meeting is currently scheduled to be held at the Hutchinson Center on Belmont Avenue (Route 3) at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 21.

Stephen Rappaport

Stephen Rappaport

Waterfront Editor at The Ellsworth American
Stephen Rappaport has lived in Maine for nearly 30 years. A lifelong sailor, he spends as much time as possible messing about in boats. [email protected]

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