An open letter to the American Aquafarms CEO

By Ann Michelson Hirschhorn

Dear Mr. Roenes:

Your company, American Aquafarms, is applying to the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) to lease two 60-acre sites in the middle of Frenchman Bay. You plan to build 30 huge floating pens to raise 66 million pounds of farmed salmon annually. This represents the first step in industrialization of a bay that is currently in good economic balance between tourism, lobstering, shellfish and sea vegetable aquaculture, clamming, worming, recreational boaters, coastal businesses and other small-scale activities.

From your commentary in the Ellsworth American of July 29, it appears that you think you are bringing us the gift of newly developed, improved technology that will set a standard for in-water fin fish aquaculture in the United States. You seem to think that gives you the right to choose the site most appropriate to your needs without any consideration of the current status and needs of the site; of the people who came before, who live there now and who will live there in the future; of the flora and fauna that flourish there or the established customs and practices of those who currently make a living and/or recreate in the bay.

You have heard the outpouring of opposition, the communal horror at the thought of your project. Last March, I warned you of it in a letter to which you did not reply. Is your commentary finally the answer to that letter? If so, the answer appears to show your ongoing refusal to recognize the significance of the history, culture and character of our bay, its surrounding islands and the national park. It reiterates your disrespect for the generations who have worked and continue to work to preserve this bay as the pristine natural wonder, the unique natural resource and the treasured home it is for this and generations to come.

You claim to be eco-friendly, dedicated to sustainability, community-minded. Yet you are designing your application solely to comply with the current DMR rules and regulations, which were developed for local, small-scale, light commercial installations. The DMR has never before been asked to evaluate an in-water industrial application of this size and capacity. In addition, you bring us a technology that has not been commercially validated. It is only just now being piloted, at one site in Norway and another in Canada, with single pens and a shorter portion of the life cycle of the fish.

How can you have the audacity to ask to do an experiment at this scale here when it would not be allowed in your heavily regulated Norwegian waters? Do you think so little of the state of Maine, its government and its citizens to presume that we would allow you to do this in waters that are owned by the state in trust for the public? Where is your proclaimed respect for the community and its environment when you propose to pollute its waters, defile the iconic views, the peaceful soundscape and the world-renowned night sky of one of our nation’s treasured national parks?

We appreciate that you ask us to work with you to modify your plans in response to our concerns. However, there is nothing you can do to modify the fact that what you are proposing is inappropriate and dangerous development for this bay.

As you must be aware, any business venture can fail. If you succeed, you and your Norwegian investors will profit handsomely. If you fail — through accident, disaster, poor design, lack of funding — you can walk away and start again. We, on the other hand, risk everything whether you succeed or fail: our livelihoods, our quality of life, our heritage, the irreversible destruction of a place of natural beauty and bounty that our forebears and we have strived for generations to preserve in perpetuity. We cannot afford to risk your success or your failure.

Mr. Roenes, please know that you have awakened a sleeping giant. Industrial-scale aquaculture does not belong in Frenchman Bay. We, the opposition, from all walks of life and all parts of the country, refuse to base our existential survival solely on the “hope” that once again the system will work. We will not rest until our sacred place is secured.

Ann Michelson Hirschhorn is a retired neurologist whose family has owned a home on Hancock Point for nearly 80 years and through four generations. Since 2017, she has worked with Friends of Frenchman Bay, whose mission is the protection and preservation of Frenchman Bay.

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