Maine Fair Trade plant eyed for aquaculture venture

PROSPECT HARBOR ­– American Aquafarms, founded by the CEO of a recently established Norwegian cod farm operating from the port city of Trondheim on the central coast, is eyeing the Maine Fair Trade Lobster plant to acquire and turn into a seafood/fish hatchery plant where cod and Atlantic salmon would be processed from the company’s two proposed sites in Frenchman Bay.

At the Gouldsboro Selectmen’s meeting last Thursday night, American Aquafarms’s project manager Mark Blair told The American that the newly formed company is “looking at the Maine Fair Trade Lobster property” to acquire the 100,000-square-foot-square plant from New Bedford, Mass.-based East Coast Seafood.

As part of the roughly $100 million to $150 million project, the Maine Fair Trade property’s dock would be expanded. Barges would operate from there to transport feed as well as off-load fish waste from two sites being studied in Frenchman Bay. The sites, where an unspecified number of pens would be installed, lie north of Bald Rock and northwest of the “Hop” island. The potential sites cover about 50 and 60 acres, Elizabeth Ransom of the Portland-based environmental consulting firm Ransom Consultants, estimated.

The proposed sites, located roughly in the center of Frenchman Bay, are well away from the CAT ferry and cruise ships’ channel.

In addition, Maine Fair Trade’s warehouse would be turned into a fish hatchery where American Aquafarms would use North American salmon eggs to raise Atlantic salmon as well as cod to stock its ocean pens. The Prospect Harbor complex’s main building would be used to process fish. Company officials say they are already in talks with Pittsfield-based Cianbro to possibly do the construction.

In addition, Blair said both skilled and unskilled employees would be sought in the local workforce for all aspects of the operation. Company officials said it was too early in the process to estimate how many.

“We don’t just want to be a taxpayer. We want to be welcomed here. We want to be an integral part of the community.”

Held in the Prospect Harbor Women’s Club building, the meeting drew more than two dozen citizens and interested parties. In attendance, via the online conferencing platform Zoom, were Aquafarms CEO Mikael Rones and Vice President Erik Joers speaking from Norway.

In Maine, the escape of genetically-modified salmon from ocean-based fish farms, and the threat of those fish mingling with wild migrating Atlantic salmon has been an issue and continues to be a serious concern, prompting questions from the Downeast Salmon Federation’s board of directors member Alan “Chubba” Kane, who also lives in Gouldsboro, as well as the nonprofit’s Restoration and Engagement Coordinator Brett Ciccotelli.

Responding to the concern of fish escaping, Joers said American Aquafarms’ “closed” pens are contained in a sack of polymer-membrane cloth that’s used on offshore oil rigs located in exposed locations battered by rough seas and high winds. Inner nets provide added protection from the elements as well as predators such as seals.

Acadia National Park Management Assistant John T. Kelly asked about the fish pens’ height above water, their color as well as any lighting and noise produced by generators. Some of those issues will be addressed in the applications and review for state and federal permits from the Maine Departments of Environmental Protection and Marine Resources and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Ramson explained.

Ramson, consultant to American Aquafarms, said the public will have an opportunity for more detailed information to address those issues during related scoping and public information sessions held by DMR and possibly DEP in coming months.

Ramson said American Aquafarms has met multiple times with local fishermen and some changes and adjustments already have been made in response to the concerns about the proposed proposed sites and their proximity to fishing grounds.

American Aquafarms is aiming to obtain its permits in the late summer of 2021 and commence construction that fall. Company officials estimate that the project will take two to three years before it is operational.

“We look forward to working with you as we go forward,” Dana Rice, chairman of the Gouldsboro Board of Selectmen told Aquafarms’ Norwegian officials and staff. “I am hopeful this will go forward and be in everyone’s best interests.”

Letitia Baldwin

Arts Editor at The Ellsworth American
In addition to editing the Arts & Leisure section, Letitia edits special sections including Out & About, Overview, Health Quarterly, Your Maine Home, House & Garden and Get Ready for Winter. She comes from Chicago, Ill, but has deep family ties to the Cranberry Isles. [email protected]

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