American Aquafarms open to "rational" input on project plans
American Aquafarms, which plans to build a new closed-pen salmon aquaculture facility in Gouldsboro, Maine, U.S.A. is committed to moving forward on the permitting process despite vocal opposition groups pushing for federal intervention.
The project was first announced in October 2020, with American Aquafarms CEO telling SeafoodSource his company has aims to produce salmon up to 30,000 metric tons (MT) of salmon a year at the farm, which will be centered around the former East Coast Seafood Group lobster facility in Gouldsboro that was purchased by American Aquafarms in October.
From the start of the project, Rones emphasized that building local support for the project would be key to its success. Despite the existence of some outspoken opponents to the project, American Aquafarms Director of Project Development Thomas J. Brennan – who was recently hired to lead the Maine project – told SeafoodSource the company's commitment to the area is sincere.
“We’re looking for input from anybody who is willing to discuss rationally how we can modify this to accommodate for your concerns,” Brennan said. “As long they’re rational concerns, we’re more than happy to get involved.”
A lot of language used by the project’s opponents, he said, doesn’t match the details of what American Aquafarms is planning, hence the emphasis on “rational” concerns.
“There’s a lot of hyperbole involved, and I think it’s pretty apparent to me that regardless of what the facts are, the ‘opposition’ are just against the project,” he said.
Some of the language used by those opposed to the project doesn't reflect the reality of what American Aquafarms is planning, Brennan said. Organizations like Frenchman Bay United, an opposition group, are claiming that the project will dump millions of gallons of waste into the bay, and that “industrial lighting” and generators will ruin the scenic nature of the area.
Brennan said the closed net-pen system is designed to mitigate those impacts, and is different from older net-pen systems.
“This technology does not contribute waste to the environment, and in fact, the waste is by and large collected and brought to shore, and dried, and converted to a fuel to make energy,” he said. “By and large, the waste is captured and it’s reused. That conceptually is very novel, and the outer membrane of those closed pens are impenetrable.”
The system is designed to take colder, deeper seawater and circulate it through the closed-pen system, preventing many of the issues that have plagued traditional net-pen aquaculture operations, Brennan said.
“Most of the issues - if not all of the issues - that are emblematic of the old-school way of doing finfish farming, are eliminated,” Brennan said. “I think this will set a standard, not just in Maine, but elsewhere, once it’s proven.”
Brennan disparaged the tactics of the opposition groups, which have pursued federal intervention, arguing the project will interfere with the nearby Acadia National Park.
“The project is being proposed for the waters of the state of Maine. We’re not proposing this in the national park. There are laws and rules what can and cannot be done in the waters of the state of Maine, and within those laws and rules there are processes, whether it’s through [Maine's Department of Marine Resources] or the [Maine Department of Environmental Protection], with respect to wastewater discharge,” Brennan said.
Brennan said Maine's permitting process for aquaculture projects is comprehensive and adequate to ensure any approved project meets exacting standards throughout its operational lifetime.
“When you get a lease through DMR, or you get a permit through DEP, there are always conditions,” Brennan said. “They don’t just give you a permit and then forget about you.”
Other concerns, like light pollution and the total size of the project, he said, have been exaggerated by opponents, Brennan said. While the company is applying for two separate 60-acre leases, the actual space the net-pens will take up is much smaller, he said.
“We’re talking about 20 acres of all of Frenchman’s Bay,” Brennan said. “I don’t know, how big is a cruise ship?”
American Aquafarms is seeking to make aquaculture an integrated piece of Maine’s long-held status as a seafood powerhouse, Brennan said.
“The factory is going to be in Prospect Harbor, which has been the site of a cannery for 100 years,” Brennan said. “It’s exciting to know that something can come of vibrant cultural and traditional activity on the coast of Maine, rather than it succumb to gentrification.”
Photo courtesy of American Aquafarms