Nordic Aquafarms facing second public hearing for California-based salmon RAS

Published on
August 1, 2022
A meeting of the Humboldt County Planning Commission.

Nordic Aquafarms is facing a second public hearing on its plans for a recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) facility it hopes to build Humboldt County, California, U.S.A. after the first meeting generated so much public commentary the Humboldt County Planning Commission decided to postpone its vote on approving the project.

The hearing, which took place on 28 July, addresssed two different permits for the company’s plans for a land-based salmon RAS in Humboldt County, California, to be sited in a defunct paper mill. The company needs both a coastal development permit and a special permit for the project, along with the certification of the project's environmental impact report.

The hearing featured an informational report by California-based LACO Associates that addressed some of the existing 242 public comments on the project, including 132 letters of support. Following that, there was a second informational presentation by The Humboldt Bay Harbor Recreation and Conservation District, the governing body of the Port of Humboldt Bay, as well as a final presentation by Nordic Aquafarms.

Humboldt County Planning Commission Member Noah Levy praised Nordic’s thorough efforts to comply with the local building process and high environmental standards.

“I just want to acknowledge that this is a project that has gone above and beyond what was required of it in many measures environmentally, and I applaud the applicant for that,” Levy said. “I applaud that they have worked hard to really create a clean project that would set a new standard in many ways, and that we as a county have put a lot of robust conditions on it. I just see our job up here as trying to make sure that those conditions are totally adequate within the bounds of what’s feasible to make this project the best project it possibly can be.”

Following the three presentations, a lengthy public comment session stretched long enough that the meeting was forced to adjourn before the planning commission could make a decision.

“I’d like to point out that I’m on the East Coast, and will not be able to explain my thoughts for much longer,” Humboldt County Commissioner Brian Mitchell said, well after midnight.

The comments themselves varied between support and criticism, with members of the local Operating Engineers Local 3 union supporting the project as a needed source of jobs for the area.

“They’re taking a dilapidated, contaminated pulp mill and they’re going to turn it into a viable industry, and I think they’ve done their due diligence on all areas,” union member Harry Herkert said. “It’s good to see that we’re attracting that kind of industry. We need it. The port is falling apart. We need sustainable industry.”  

Another project supporter, California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt Professor Rafael Cuevas-Uribe, who works in the university's department of fisheries biology and has more than 20 years of professional experience in aquaculture, said the project is cutting-edge.

“I have visited more than 30 recirculating aquaculture facilities throughout the United States, [so] I am familiar with this technology,” Cuevas-Uribe said. “The recirculating system that Nordic is proposing to install here is the most-advanced system that I have ever witnessed.”

Other were less certain of the project, especially given the projection it will produce 27,000 metric tons (MT) of salmon annually when complete.

“The scale of the project is really concerning,” Northcoast Environmental Center Executive Director Caroline Griffith said, according to the Lost Coast Outpost. “And we suggest starting with a smaller project, or that the planning commission consider issuing a [coastal development permit] that expires within a set amount of time, maybe five or 10 years.”

Given the lack of decision, the planning commission decided to postpone further questioning on the permits until 4 August – where Nordic Aquafarms will learn whether its project can move forward or if more work will be needed to secure the local permits.  

Image courtesy of the Humboldt County Planning Commission

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