AquaBounty salmon eggs cited as reason for Maine’s rejection of American Aquafarms permit

Unanswered questions around AquaBounty's supply of salmon eggs caused Maine's rejection of American Aquafarms salmon farm permit application.

The Department of Marine Resources (DMR) in the U.S. state of Maine rejected American Aquafarms permit application for a closed-net salmon farm specifically because its source for eggs – AquaBounty’s hatchery in Canada – did not meet the state’s criteria for a qualified source.

According to DMR Director of Communications Jeff Nichols, the agency “terminated the applications of American Aquafarms after the company failed to fulfill its legal obligation to demonstrate an available source of fish to be cultivated at its proposed salmon farms in Frenchman Bay.”

“American Aquafarms failed to provide documentation demonstrating that the proposed source of fish/eggs could meet genetic requirements in law requires Atlantic salmon to be of North American stock,” Nichols said in an email. “Furthermore, AquaBounty did not meet the criteria for a ‘qualified source/hatchery’ as defined in DMR Regulations Chapter 24. Chapter 24 rules have specific requirements with regard to hatchery inspection and screening for pathogens of concern (i.e. bacteria and viruses) that were not met by AquaBounty.”

Nichols said his agency's concern about AquaBounty’s salmon eggs centered around a lack of certainty that they were of North American stock and not genetically modified – AquaBounty is known for its development of GMO salmon, though it has also branched into selling non-GMO eggs. AquaBounty produces its non-GMO salmon eggs at its facility in Rollo Bay, Prince Edward Island, Canada, though the DMR response cited their production in Newfoundland, even though AquaBounty does not operate in Newfoundland.

“The primary reason that GMO and non-North American stocks of Atlantic salmon would not be approved for use in net-pen aquaculture in marine waters is because any escaped salmon from the net pen could interact with endangered wild Atlantic salmon and potentially negatively impact the fitness and survival of the wild salmon,” Nichols said.

In a 22 April statement, AquaBounty President and CEO Sylvia Wulf clarified her company’s role in the American Aquafarms project and the status of her company’s salmon eggs.

“AquaBounty has been in discussions with American Aquafarms about becoming an approved supplier to provide them with non-genetically engineered Atlantic salmon eggs from our facility in Rollo Bay, Prince Edward Island, Canada. Representatives for American Aquafarms requested specific information and data from AquaBounty, which we have provided. We did not receive requests for any additional information,” Wulf said. “AquaBounty has rigorous quality control and quality assurance procedures in place to confirm the genotype of every commercial batch of eggs shipped from our hatcheries. We verify the genotype and ploidy of genetically engineered ‘GE’ eggs shipped to AquaBounty farms using procedures approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and we verify that no GE eggs are present in any shipment of non-GE eggs, using established molecular biological methods. The same egg [quality control] procedure would be used to verify the absence of GE eggs in batches used by AquaBounty to produce non-GE fry or smolts for our customers. Additionally, AquaBounty does not produce non-GE and GE eggs at the same time in a single facility.”

Asked about the situation, American Aquafarms CEO Mikael Rønes told SeafoodSource his company is still reviewing the DMR’s comments in its response.

“American Aquafarms is currently working on how best to address the decision from Maine Departments of Marine Resources and will provide a more comprehensive answer as soon as possible,” he wrote in an email. “We remain committed to the process and to establishing sustainable and environmentally friendly aquaculture in Maine.”

American Aquafarms first announced its proposal to build its salmon farm in Frenchman Bay, Maine, in October 2020. At the time, Rønes told SeafoodSource it was his hope to produce up to 30,000 metric tons (MT) of Atlantic salmon at the site by 2024.

Those plans are now in jeopardy, as the Maine DMR has said it will take no further action on the company’s permit application, and that if the company refiled its application, it could take two to three years for the department to process it.

Photo courtesy of WoodysPhotos/Shutterstock


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