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Editorial: Dead in the water?

Updated: May 1

Editorial

April 28, 2022

Mt. Desert Islander

Original article American Aquafarms’ proposal to raise up to 66 million pounds of salmon annually in the shadow of Acadia National Park certainly made a splash. It remains to be seen whether the developers’ vision is buoyant enough for the project to resurface here or elsewhere in Maine.


The state departments of Marine Resources and Environmental Protection have terminated the Norwegian-backed company’s applications for two lease sites in Frenchman Bay. According to the DMR, the proposed source of salmon smolts, AquaBounty of Newfoundland, Canada, was not qualified under state regulations. Moreover, American Aquafarms did not provide evidence that the hatchery stock would meet genetic requirements under law. That the sourcing was an issue was not news to American Aquafarms. DMR informed the company back in September that the agency would not take further action on the applications until the issue was resolved.


Unsatisfied six months later, DMR pull the plug. Should the company reapply, “they would have to start from scratch,” a process that could take two to three years, spokesman Jeff Nichols told the Portland Press Herald.


As a test of Maine’s existing aquaculture regulations, the decision was anticlimactic. Especially given the vociferous opposition to the project. The applications were rejected early in the lengthy lease process before any public meetings. Major issues raised by opponents, including potential environmental threats and conflict with existing uses such as fishing, didn’t factor in. The problem was more fundamental. A company that wants to raise millions of salmon — by weight more than half of Maine’s annual lobster catch — and invest hundreds of millions of dollars in the effort has not figured out a legal way to get starter fish. That’s like proposing North America’s largest bakery without having a flour vendor lined up.


The omission bodes ill for the company’s ability to successfully bring a project to fruition. There are other indications that all is not going as planned.


The proposal calls for a hatchery and processing plant at the former Maine Fair Trade facility in Prospect Harbor. American Aquafarms officials this past October described the purchase of the property as “imminent,” but it has yet to be recorded. Will it ever be?


Last week, in an email from Norway, Vice President Eirik Jors said the company was considering its next steps in the wake of the DMR and DEP decisions. “We remain committed to the process and to further the development of sustainable and environmentally friendly aquaculture in Maine,” he wrote.


Any renewed effort is likely to meet serious resistance. The lasting impact of the American Aquafarms proposal may well be the opposition it mobilized. Critics have pushed for more regulation of aquaculture projects at the state and local level. The public is taking a greater interest in sea farming, its scale and its role in our coastal future. Those are important conversations.


Still, DMR’s termination of the applications demonstrates there are protections built into every stage of the process. Rejecting the proposal based on legalities may not be dramatic, but it is reassuring.

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