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If the Frenchman Bay salmon farm isn’t right for Norway, it’s not right for Maine

Updated: Aug 25, 2021

Jerry Potter of Gouldsboro is a lifelong lobsterman.

The American Aquafarms proposal to put an immense salmon farm near Acadia National Park adds an ironic twist to the term NIMBY — not in my backyard. In this case it applies to the developer, not the opponents. Whenever I describe to people the location of this industrial development in Frenchman Bay — or better yet, show them the site with the majesty of Cadillac Mountain and Acadia National Park in the background — their first reaction is always the same: What were they thinking? This is followed by, how could they possibly do this?

The short answer is, the developers came here to do what they couldn’t do back home in Norway. They couldn’t build this project in their own backyard, so they are trying to put it in our front yard — in a special place that attracts millions of visitors each year and makes a huge contribution to Maine’s tourism economy, not to mention the highly productive lobster fishing and mussel, kelp and oyster farming. I know, I’ve fished these waters for more than 50 years.

Norway has been salmon farming for a lot longer than we have, and it has very strict rules in place. Consider this: American Aquafarms is proposing to raise 66 million pounds of fish at two lease sites. In Norway, the maximum allowed biomass per company at any one site is about 10 million pounds. That means the American Aquafarms’ project would be at least three times the size allowed in Norway.

Stocking densities for sea pens in Norway and other countries are regulated to protect water quality. American Aquafarms is planning a density of 40 kilograms per cubic meter. In Norway, the maximum allowable density for standard (non-organic) leases is 25 kilograms per cubic meter. So the Maine project would have a 60 percent larger density than what is allowed there.

American Aquafarms leases in Maine would be for 20 years. In Norway, production limits can be adjusted annually, based on the health of the project.

Add in higher capital gains taxes and proposals for natural resource and biomass production taxes and Maine is the Wild West compared to Norway.

In the past few years, at least four large investor-backed companies have announced plans to raise huge amounts of fish in Maine, taking advantage of our cold, clean water and our day’s drive from lucrative East Coast markets. Three of the four large projects now under consideration are planning to raise fish on land, avoiding the problems of in-water pens like fish escape, disease, water pollution and obstructions to fishing and navigation.

American Aquafarms is the outlier. It is proposing to use 150-foot-diameter “semi-closed” pens — think traditional pens with a big bag underneath — that still have some of the downsides of industrial in-water fish farming.

It’s like saying “we’re going to build a coal-fired plant on the Maine coast but don’t worry, we’re using clean coal technology.” Well, sorry, it’s still coal and these are still sea-pens, and we shouldn’t want either.

While semi-closed pens have been used on a limited basis to raise small fish, no one has attempted to put so many of these pens — 30 — in such massive arrays or to use them to grow salmon to harvest size.

We can’t fall for this. We can’t be the guinea pig for unproven technologies. We can’t be the suckers who sell our pristine waters and bays for cheap, falling for the promise of a few new jobs while endangering the livelihoods of hard-working people that are already here. We can’t allow a company to do something here that it couldn’t do in its own country.

We’re better than this, and it’s time we stand up for all that is special about the Maine coast and say no. Not here. Not now. Not ever.

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