Nordic Aquafarms plans to highlight local production in marketing of Maine-based salmon RAS

Published on
November 6, 2018

Nordic Aquafarms – the Norway-based company with plans to construct a USD 500 million (EUR 438 million) salmon recirculating aquaculture system facility in Belfast, Maine, U.S.A. – plans to highlight local production as they market the fish to the U.S., according to Commercial Director Marianne Naess. 

Naess – who sat down for an interview with SeafoodSource at the company’s new offices in Portland, Maine (a full transcript of the interview is available with a SeafoodSource Premium subscription) – said that the company plans to focus its marketing for the product on its local production, in addition to its quality. The company – which is being funded by Norwegian investors – recently signed on for booth space at Seafood Expo North America as it begins to start marketing its salmon to U.S. businesses, despite it likely being years before the company has any Maine-grown salmon to sell. 

The branding potential of Maine is planned to be included in the marketing push, said Naess.  

“I think the long heritage you have in the seafood industry in this state, and the image, and the cleanliness compared to other states, the more pristine setting, I think will be good for the brand,” Naess said.  

When choosing a site, Maine’s branding potential factored into the decision to locate in Belfast. The city’s large aquifer, providing access to millions of gallons of clean, fresh water, was another big part of the decision.

“No site is perfect, but it met most of the criteria,” Naess said. 

The company plans to market 100 percent of the salmon in its facility domestically, with no plans to export it to other countries, said Naess. Nordic Aquafarms also expects to produce a premium product, similar to the premium products that have been produced by the company’s European facilities. 

The way it is processed it will be a high-quality fish, and it’s local, and it can be obtained super-fresh,” she said. “Theoretically, you may harvest it in the morning, and have it in New York at night.”

Nordic Aquafarms isn’t the only company planning a recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) salmon facility in the U.S. Just 20 miles away, Whole Oceans is planning a similar RAS facility, and Atlantic Sapphire is also planning a land-based RAS facility in Miami, Florida.  

Naess said there’s plenty of room for all three companies, given the current market dynamics in the United States. 

“I think the reason why you see several companies coming into the U.S now is, it’s a huge market. You import 90 percent of your fresh seafood, so the market potential is there. You eat a lot less fish than everyone else, and there is also a growing trend where millennials and younger people are shifting toward a healthier diet,” Naess said. “There is room for a lot of these companies right now.”

She said the best-case scenario is that all three companies succeed and build public recognition of land-based RAS salmon. 

“I hope they will succeed and do well, because there is room for all of us in the market,” Naess said. “If anyone fails, that’s going to be associated with the whole market, because people aren’t going to be able to differentiate between the suppliers at this point.”

Nordic Aquafarms is currently still undergoing the permitting process at a local, state, and federal level. According to Naess, those efforts have been slower going that the company expected. 

“Permitting is quite complicated here in Maine,” she said. “I think the difference from what we’re used to is that it requires a lot more work up front before you can submit your permit, and it’s also higher risk. The investments before you actually get your permit is a lot higher than what we’re used to in Norway, and it’s complicated and time-consuming.”

A few outspoken residents in Belfast have come out against the project. Two abutters to the proposed site are currently in a lawsuit against the city of Belfast due to the city council's decision to amend zoning to allow the project, and three city council candidates are running on a platform opposing the project. 

While Naess said she is not worried about the political aspects of the project, the company has had to deal with the effects of misinformation being spread in the community.

“I think the most frustrating part of it is that we see a lot of conspiracy theories. Like a rumor we were having problems in France. We’re not in France, I don’t know anything about that,” she said. “I heard yesterday that, 'They have problems in Scotland,’ but we’re not in Scotland either. I think that as long as it’s a fact-based, and open discussion, it’s good.”

Once permitting is completed and the project begins, the plan is to take it in two phases. The first phase is planned to begin this summer and take 18 to 20 months. The company is taking a wait-and-see approach to the project's second phase, dependent on the outcome of the first phase.

“We have said initially that phase one and two will be within five or six years,” Naess said.

 Rendering courtesy of Nordic Aquafarms

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