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Acadia superintendent warns of potential effect of proposed salmon farm

By: Laurie Schreiber

May 18, 2022


A state agency recently nixed applications for a large salmon farm in Frenchman Bay.

But opponents of the proposed project warned against settling for a “temporary victory.”

“The fight is certainly not over,” said Ted O’Meara, a board member of Frenchman Bay United, a coalition of groups and individuals that came together to fight two applications by Norwegian company American Aquafarms to install fish pens in Frenchman Bay.

O’Meara was a featured speaker Tuesday for an online presentation hosted by Mount Desert Island’s Acadia Senior College on the company’s activities.

In April, the Department of Marine Resources rejected American Aquafarms’s applications to lease two 60-acre sites between Bar Harbor and Schoodic Peninsula to install 15 “closed pens” plus an operations barge at each site, with the goal of eventually producing 66 million pounds of salmon annually.

The DMR said the source, AquaBounty of Newfoundland, Canada, of salmon eggs proposed for the project didn’t meet criteria for a “qualified source/hatchery.”

Last week, the senior college hosted Thomas Brennan, project manager for American Aquafarms, who said the company will think about how to proceed. He added that the waters of Frenchman Bay are well-suited to the company’s proposed activities.

This week’s forum hosted opponents of the project.

O’Meara said the DMR pulled the plug on the applications based on a technicality. The coalition, he said, will be prepared to challenge the project, if new applications are made, based on what opponents said would be substantial impacts of the project with regard to the environment, water quality, scenic viewshed, navigation, habitat, flora and fauna, noise, and light.

“Our goal is not only to stop this project but to makes sure it can never happen in Frenchman Bay or anywhere else along the coast,” he said.

Acadia National Park Superintendent Kevin Schneider said the project doesn’t suit the bay, which borders the park.

“Much of the reason that Acadia is so unique on the East Coast of the United States is that it exists in this largely pastoral landscape,” Schneider said.

Schneider noted that 2021 was the park’s busiest year ever, with over 4 million visitors. Indications are that 2022 will be similar, he said.

“Those visitors who come here are really what drive our economy in this part of the state,” he said.

As a primary Maine tourist destination, “Acadia plays a key role” in Maine’s large tourism economy and is also a draw for retirees, he said.

National Park Service policy allows for the monitoring of proposed changes outside of park boundaries for potential impacts on the parks themselves, he said. Policy also allows for engagement with surrounding communities and encouragement of compatible adjacent land uses by contributing to planning and regulatory processes at federal, state and local levels, he said.

Although Frenchman Bay’s scenic vista occurs outside of the park, it’s of significant importance to park visitors and local residents, he said. Many vistas include lands not owned by the National Park Service, he noted.

While commercial fishing and aquaculture activities are part of the bay’s heritage, the latest proposal “is fundamentally different” from other aquaculture activities occurring near the park, he said.

The size of the proposal, he said, “is unprecedented in Maine and incongruous with the nature of Frenchman Bay and surrounding lands.”

The park service, he said, is concerned with how the potential development could affect Acadia and resources such as dark night skies, natural soundscapes, intertidal areas, air quality and water quality.

“This has potential for significant adverse impacts to Acadia,” he said.

Schneider said the agency will monitor any future proposals from American Aquafarms. “It seems this might not be done yet,” he said.

Last week, residents of the town of Hancock residents voted unanimously at their annual town meeting to intervene in permitting against the now-stalled salmon farm, should the project come back before state regulators.

Earlier this year, the Hancock select board sent a letter to Gov. Janet Mills stating their opposition to the project.

Hancock joined Bar Harbor, Sorrento, Lamoine and the town of Mount Desert in expressing opposition to the proposal.

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