GOULDSBORO — In Norway, one of the world’s top two producers of farmed salmon, raising fish at sea in closed cages has been tested for nearly a decade. Multiple contained floating systems are in commercial use there now after yielding positive test results. Whether such farms’ scale, though, fit Frenchman Bay, where a ferry, tour boats, fishing vessels and pleasure craft already coexist, is among many questions sparked by American Aquafarms’ plan to grow fish there on a large scale.
On Norway’s northwest coast, beginning in 2016, the “Eco-cage” system that American Aquafarms’ proposes for Frenchman Bay was tested by its producer, Ecomerden AS, at the salmon farm Sulefisk in the westernmost Solund Isles archipelago for a two-year period. Compared to open-net pens used in Maine, the closed, floating system fared better. In 2018, Ecomerden AS General Manager Jan-Erik Kyrkjebø reported sea lice, a parasite that feeds on salmon skin and accounts for much fish mortality, had ceased as an issue and predators failed to penetrate the ocean pens’ strong, flexible membrane sack. Kyrkjebø also said the Norwegian company’s closed system boosted the salmon’s survival rate and reduced the fish’s grow-out period leading to harvest, according to Undercurrent News, a London-based, independent online journal focused on the global seafood market.
Earlier this year, Ecomerden, whose Eco-cage is proposed for Frenchman Bay, sold its semi-closed system for commercial use to the Norwegian salmon farm Eide Fjordbruk in the southwestern fjord town of Eikelandsosen. Another Norwegian fish farmer, Osland Havbruk, is using the Eco-cage to raise salmon in Norway’s largest and deepest fjord, Sognefjord, on the west coast, according to the Norwegian journal SalmonBusiness. However, Ecomerden’s Eco-cages are not yet being used commercially elsewhere in the world, according to American Aquafarms Vice President Eirik Jors.
In a virtual interview Tuesday, Jors noted the United States imports largely by air freight more than 90 percent of its seafood from China, Vietnam, Norway and other countries. He says American Aquafarms’ proposed venture would result in an estimated 100,000-ton reduction in carbon emissions and reduce delivery time and transport costs to get farm-raised salmon to the U.S. domestic market.
Jors says American Aquafarms spent many months studying various potential sites in coastal Maine. He says Frenchman Bay and islands stood out from others as a natural buffer from the open Atlantic. The waterbody’s depths, currents, water temperatures as well as Maine’s historic economic reliance on fisheries and its relative proximity to seafood markets were other contributing factors.
American Aquafarms’ proposed venture comes at a time when the U.S. is the world’s top consumer of farmed salmon. Consumption has at least tripled in 40 years.
“It [American Aquafarms] will deliver fish on shore five days a week,” Jors pledged.
As of this week, the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) had not yet accepted the Norwegian-backed company’s application as complete. If and when that happens, DMR’s regulators will initiate the regulatory review process including a public comment period and public hearing. Biologists will visit the 30-pen farm’s two proposed sites north of Bald Rock and The Hop island in Frenchman Bay. The state agency then will issue its findings supporting the application’s approval or denial.
“It [American Aquafarms’ application] will be posted to the website [DMR] when it has been reviewed and determined to be complete,” DMR spokesman Jeff Nichols reported earlier this month.
Meanwhile, American Aquafarms is scheduled to hold a virtual, public meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday, May 6, about the company’ expected application for a waste discharge permit from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. The company seeks to discharge 23,775 gallons per second of circulated water (90 m3 per second) from Frenchman Bay at its two proposed sites comprising 15 pens each. The floating pens, each about 125 feet wide, are fitted with polymer-membrane cloth sacks in which fish waste (feces and feed) collects at the bottom. The waste is pumped to and passes through an attached filtration unit. The byproduct then would be transported to the mainland and potentially used for commercial applications such as bio-gas and fertilizer. The 144-foot vessel Mar Fortune, aided by a smaller boat, would deliver fish feed, fuel and juvenile fish (smolt) and service the sites about 15 miles by water from Prospect Harbor.
American Aquafarms’ intent Wednesday night was to further inform the public about its project’s water circulation/filtration system before it submits a DEP wastewater discharge permit application for review early next week. Once DEP authorities determine the application is complete, the public will have 30 days to submit comments in writing. Gauging public interest, the DEP can decide to hold a public hearing.
In the meantime, Acadia National Park officials, potentially affected Hancock County towns, the local lobster industry, businesses and citizens are eagerly awaiting DMR’s ruling on the American Aquafarms application’s completeness. No one knows for sure whether that will be a matter of days, weeks or months given the project’s complexity.
While new to Frenchman Bay, this type of closed-pen technology is not wholly uncharted waters.
In the world’s farmed-salmon industry, dominated by Norway and Chile, Norway’s top producer Mowi ASA is using closed-floating pen technology successfully to raise 800,000 salmon, each weighing up to 2.205 pounds, near the southwestern coast port of Stavanger. Based in Norway’s southwestern coastal town of Haugesund, Aquafarm Equipment AS designed and fabricated the Neptun system being used by Mowi. The Neptun cage, which measures 413 feet round, was tested over an eight-year period at the commercial site. As a result of those trials, Norwegian fisheries authorities granted Aquafarm Equipment a commercial lease for its system that also was put into commercial use by another Norwegian salmon farm in the west coast seaport of Molde. Mowi also is eyeing the Neptun system for its fish farms among in Scotland’s Hebrides Islands.
“The results are really good, with no lice challenges, less diseases, less algae and lower mortality,” Aquafarm Equipment AS CEO Egil Bergersen told The American earlier this month. He noted six generations of salmon were raised during the testing phase begun in 2013. “The Aquafarm cage is hard-wall (fibre-reinforced plastic) with double barriers on all entry- and exit points, and therefore is considered to be escape-proof.”