By Letitia Baldwin
April 20, 2022
BOOTHBAY — American Aquafarms’ two incomplete lease applications to raise 66 million pounds of Atlantic salmon annually at two sites near Bald Ledge and Long Porcupine Island in Frenchman Bay have been terminated by both the Maine Department of Marine Resources and the Maine Department of Enivoronmental Protection. The DMR cited the Norwegian-backed company’s apparent failure to furnish an “available source” of juvenile fish to stock the two proposed 15-pen sites, according to a press release late Wednesday.
In response to that action, Maine DEP Commissioner Melanie Loyzim early Thursday morning informed American Aquafarms’ environmental consultant and scientist Elizabeth Ransom that the state agency had “exercised its discretion” and had returned her client’s completed applications for wastewater discharge licenses on the grounds that the DMR applications are no longer pending. Citing state law, the April 21, 2022 letter letter quoted a procedural statute stating, “If the project requires a submerged lands lease from the State, evidence must be supplied that the lease has been issued, or that an application is pending.” In other words, the DMR applications are no longer pending.
In late winter, the DMR told The Ellsworth American that American Aquafarms’ applications were still incomplete because the company’s proposed source of juvenile fish, U.S.-owned AquaBounty Canada, had not applied for a permit to supply juvenile salmon for use in U.S. coastal waters and therefore lacked standing as an approved source. The fish, which would have been supplied by AquaBounty’s Newfoundland hatchery, did not meet the criteria for a “Qualified Source/Hatchery” as defined in DMR regulations (Chapter 24).
“Additionally, American Aquafarms failed to provide documentation demonstrating that the proposed source of fish/eggs could meet genetic requirements in law (60714).” AquaBounty is credited with having produced the first genetically modified Atlantic salmon at Memorial University. Genetically engineered fish are not permitted and do not qualify as an acceptable source for stocking salmon pens in coastal Maine waters.
“No further action will be taken on these applications,” the DMR press release states.
In a Sept. 27, 2021 letter to American Aquafarms, DMR’s Aquaculture Division Director Marcy Nelson informed the company that her agency “has never reviewed or provided an import permit for Atlantic salmon originating from AquaBounty.” In the letter, Nelson said the company’s lease applications lacked sufficient information about AquaBounty Canada and whether it could meet Maine state regulations governing the import of live marine organisms. Under state law, DMR can ban the import of marine organisms that “if introduced to coastal waters could endanger indigenous marine life or its environment.”
Last week, when queried about the applications’ status, American Aquafarms’ project Manager Tom Brennan told The American that it was his understanding that the company had resubmitted requisite information about AquaBounty’s products to the DMR, but that apparently did not fulfill the state agency’s requirements. He also said the company had a backup plan to source its juvenile salmon from an alternate fish hatchery in Franklin. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Cold Water Marine Aquaculture Center is located in Franklin, but the federal facility is not in the business of selling eggs or juvenile fish to the private sector. The facility does have research agreements with companies such as Cooke Aquaculture.
Responding to the DMR and DEP’s respective actions, emailing from Norway, American Aquafarms Vice-President Eirik Jors said the company had not decided whether to take legal action and was still discussing those decisions and how best to move forward. “We remain committed to the process and to further the development of sustainable and environmentally friendly aquaculture in Maine.”