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Fisherman opposed industrial scale aquaculture in Frenchman Bay

By: Letitia Baldwin

March 9, 2022

The Ellsworth American

GOULDSBORO — Alley, Backman, Briggs, Coombs, Dunbar, Faulkingham, Knowles, Perry, Torrey and Whalen are among the surnames of multi-generation fishing families on the Schoodic Peninsula, whose working fishermen and women signed a petition opposing American Aquafarms’ proposed salmon farm comprising two 15-pen sites in Frenchman Bay. The 100 petitioners’ “Statement of Opposition” to the project to raise 66 million fish annually in their historic fishing grounds was delivered last week to the Gouldsboro Select Board.

At the board’s meeting March 3, Friends of Schoodic Peninsula co-founder Colleen Wallace presented the petition, bearing signatures of a seaweed farmer and lobster fishermen and women who work out of Winter Harbor and Gouldsboro’s Corea, Prospect, South Gouldsboro and Bunkers harbors. It was presented as evidence of widespread opposition in the local fishing community to the Norwegian-backed company’s plans to operate an industrial-scale farm at sites off Long Porcupine Island and Bald Rock Ledge in Frenchman Bay.

The project entails raising Atlantic salmon in a new generation of closed ocean cages designed to capture, compact and remove fish waste, keep out sea lice, prevent fish from escaping and withstand the elements. Little data, however, from commercial salmon farms of similar scale appears to exist yet to evaluate these emerging systems’ performance over multiple years and confirm the elimination of problems that have plagued the global salmon farming industry for years.

“This is going to take away more of our lobster fishing ground,” 75-year-old South Gouldsboro fisherman Jerry Potter said. Potter has fished in Frenchman Bay throughout his working life. “We’re worried about disease. And I’m very concerned it would pollute the bay and destroy the bay’s entire ecosystem.”

Last year, over two dozen Bar Harbor fishermen and women submitted a similar petition opposing the fish farm to the Bar Harbor Town Council.

In their “Statement of Opposition,” the Schoodic Peninsula petitioners cited the potential loss of prime fishing grounds not only for lobster, but scallops and shrimp too. Historically, some lobstermen have rerigged their vessels to drag for scallops and trawl for shrimp during the winter months in Frenchman Bay and beyond. Maine’s shrimp fishery has been closed for several years. Losing fishing grounds, they anticipated, would divert fishing to and strain other fishing grounds. They foresee losing fishing gear due to increased traffic from American Aquafarms’ 144-foot vessel Mar Fortune and other smaller boats traveling between Frenchman Bay and the company’s proposed base at Gouldsboro’s closed Maine Fair Trade plant in Prospect Harbor.

They also expect navigational congestion to increase between fishermen, fish farmers, ferries, tour boats, pleasure craft and other vessels plying the bay. They also see potential for fuel spills and fear wastewater discharge from American Aquafarms’ two sites would harm Frenchman Bay’s marine life and ecosystems. At previous meetings, company officials have pledged to work closely with the area’s fishing community to address gear conflicts and water traffic but concerns about those issues have not been allayed.

Regarding wastewater discharge, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection is currently awaiting requested information from American Aquafarms in order to continue its review of the company’s two separate wastewater discharge permit applications for the Long Porcupine Island and Bald Rock Ledge sites. In a Jan. 10 letter to Ransom Environmental Consulting, the Portland firm that did the fieldwork, remote testing and modeling underlying the permit applications, the DEP asked American Aquafarms to produce more studies or peer-reviewed scientific papers. The company must submit further evidence showing how the proposed salmon farm’s wastewater discharge technology has successfully worked to capture 90 percent of fish excrement and uneaten fish pellets produced at closed-pen farms raising similar volumes of fish. The DEP also requested that the company furnish prior repair and maintenance history for its closed-pen system’s polymer sack, intake screens and outfall pipes.

The American queried Ransom Environmental Consulting’s Senior Project Manager Elizabeth Ransom about whether she and Dill had fulfilled the DEP’s requests or planned to in the near future. Ransom replied, stating she was not authorized to speak to the media about the American Aquafarms project.

In a March 2 email, DEP Environmental Specialist Cindy Dionne told The American that the state agency doesn’t plan to visit the Frenchman Bay sites in the near future. Nor did the agency “have any public meetings/hearings scheduled as we are awaiting additional information in support of the applications from American Aquafarms.” Dionne said the DEP’s Bureau of Water Quality “will have a better idea as to what the next steps are once we hear back from them.”

As of this week, American Aquafarms’ two lease applications to operate the two 60-acre Frenchman Bay sites remain incomplete and stalled in the regulatory process. Earlier this month, the Maine Department of Marine Resources’ Communications Director Jeff Nichols said American Aquafarms still had not provided an acceptable source of juvenile fish. Therefore, he said the DMR’s regulatory review of the two 60-acre ocean sites remains suspended. He said the state agency is not under any deadline to resume its review and the applications are not at risk of expiring.

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