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Maine closed-pen salmon farmer takes big step forward

JASON HUFFMAN Mar 11, 2021

American Aquafarms has taken another big step in its effort to build a large 30,000 metric ton Atlantic salmon aquaculture closed-pen, ocean-based operation off the coast of Maine, filing two draft lease applications with the US state.

Undercurrent News reported in October how the Norwegian-born, Portland, Maine headquartered company was in the process of purchasing a former lobster facility and 11-acre site in Gouldsboro, Maine, with plans to build a hatchery and a state-of-the-art processing plant. Later details revealed the business was looking to deploy as many as 30 salmon pens, each 150-feet wide, in an area off the picturesque coast of Maine’s Mount Desert Island known as Frenchman Bay.

The draft lease applications, which are for two sites in Frenchman Bay, are part of the state’s multi-step process of approving new aquaculture projects, explains a press release from American Aquafarms. Maine’s Department of Marine Resources now has 30 days to determine if the applications meet the standards necessary to proceed to a scoping session.

Following the scoping session, the state could move to a full application review, site visit and report, and public hearing before making a final determination, the company explained.

“Maine is the ideal location for this project,” said American Aquafarms founder and CEO Mikael Roenes. “By leveraging the state’s deepwater assets with next-generation, eco-friendly technology to sustainably produce food close to its market, we have the opportunity to set a new standard in the United States. Additionally, we are confident that Maine has the workforce we need to fill the year-round, high-quality jobs we’re creating.”

Roenes had earlier predicted that he would seek the necessary aquaculture leases and permits from the state late in the summer of 2021. By 2024, he said earlier, he hoped to be harvesting as much as 30,000t of salmon annually.

The hearing process could get interesting for American Aquafarms. Several groups, including lobster harvesters and other small aquaculture farmers, have already attacked the project over concerns that it could upset the environment in the area, which borders a popular national park, as reported by Undercurrent.

If successful, the company would become only the second to be actively growing Atlantic salmon off Maine’s coast, joining Canadian seafood giant Cooke, which is believed to have leased at least 640 acres in Maine waters for such purposes. However, unlike Cooke, American Aquafarms plans to utilize a closed-pen system that the company says addresses major challenges in the traditional aquaculture industry by controlling waste and preventing escapes.

“This emergent technology will complement Maine’s maritime heritage while augmenting production of high-quality, sustainable seafood,” American Aquafarms said in its press release.