BUCKSPORT — Portland-based Whole Oceans LLC took another step toward building a 44-million-pound land-based salmon farm on the site of the former Verso Paper Co. mill recently when the Maine Department of Environmental Protection issued two permits for wastewater discharge from the proposed facility.
In June, Whole Oceans applied to MDEP for a Maine Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (MEPDES) permit and a Maine Waste Discharge License for a plant housing a recirculating aquaculture system on the shore of the Penobscot River in Bucksport.
Initial plans call for the company to raise 5,000 metric tons (11 million pounds) of Atlantic salmon annually. Ultimately, the plan calls for annual production of up to 44 million pounds of salmon from egg to 10-12-pound market size fish. Eventually, Whole Oceans plans to add a fish processing facility to send head-on, gutted whole salmon to market.
The permits impose strict limits on the amount of water that Whole Oceans may discharge into the river and requires extensive monitoring and reporting. As a part of the monitoring, Whole Oceans has to conduct a dye study “to determine the mixing characteristics of the treated effluent” from the fish farm into the Penobscot River.
The permit establishes “technology based numeric limitations” on a number of discharge parameters in addition to water flow including biochemical oxygen demand, suspended solids, nitrogen (a waste product produced by feeding fish) and pH, or acidity.
In addition to the dye study, the permit requires the company to monitor the water quality in the Penobscot River on a seasonal basis from May through October.
Initially, Whole Oceans is limited to a monthly average wastewater discharge of 4.65 million gallons per day. If production grows as planned, eventually the fish farm will grow between 22 million and 44 million pounds of Atlantic salmon annually. Should it reach those levels, permitted wastewater flow would be allowed at a monthly average of 18.6 million gallons per day, but Whole Oceans would be required to apply to DEP for a modification of its existing permits before increasing production.
The Whole Oceans facility appears to be further along in the permitting process than another land based salmon farm proposed for Belfast.
In the face of considerable community opposition, Nordic Aquafarms filed an application for the MPDES permit and license in mid-October. The application had the support of, among others, the Atlantic Salmon Federation and the Conservation Law Foundation. As yet, no permit has been approved.