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Nordic pushes forward with onshore farm in Humboldt County

Local contractors sought to help build $500M site

Humboldt County has given Norway-based seafood company Nordic Aquafarms the green light to move forward to public review bringing the company one step closer to making its half-billion-dollar onshore fish farm a reality.

The project includes clean-up and redevelopment of the defunct Samoa pulp mill facility followed by construction of five buildings with a combined footprint of 766,530 square feet, according to the county.

Nordic submitted its permit applications to the county last November. Following third-party review and several iterations, the mitigated negative declaration finding of no significant adverse environmental effect has been released for public review.

“We also expect the discharge draft permit to be sent out for public comments by the (Water Quality Control Board) soon,” said Marianne Naess, Commercial director of Nordic Aquafarms. “We are very satisfied with the work from our local permitting partners and look forward to getting feedback on the (California Environmental Quality Act) documents and all the studies that are accompanying the applications.”

Addressing the question of how the facility will withstand an earthquake or tsunami, Naess said the facility will be designed to withstand significant seismic impact and will use “a ground densification methodology” to ensure the buildings will remain intact during a seismic event.

Yet local commercial fishermen such as Jake McMaster, a board member of the Humboldt Fisherman’s Marketing Association, have raised concerns surrounding fish escape and water filtration.

“Fishermen and the Humboldt Fishermen’s Marketing Association as a whole really have environmental concerns about the Nordic project,” McMaster told the Times-Standard. “Concerns from sucking 10 million gallons of water out of the bay every day as well as fish escapes. I realize Nordic has repeatedly stated that fish escapes are impossible but we all know nothing is impossible.”

Nordic announced its plans to grow Atlantic salmon within the confines of its facility back in March. Because Atlantic salmon is not a native species, McMaster fears a fish escape could have devastating impacts on native salmon populations.

“Say 19 salmon get out. Not only do the Chinook and coho salmon have disease from this Atlantic salmon to worry about, now you have them foraging for the same food source,” McMaster said. “Juvenile Chinook and coho could potentially be a food source for escaped Atlantic salmon.”

However, Naess said the height of the fish tanks and the fish net above the tanks will prevent fish from escaping.

“The facility is designed so there are five to seven physical barriers through the piping system so the fish would not be able to escape through the water pipes,” she said. “Physical barriers include filters that are as small as 0.04 microns – a hair is 40 microns. All filters are designed to be smaller than the fish occupying that particular part of the facility. The facility is designed so that even with a human error, there would be several other physical barriers that would prevent the fish from escaping.”

Despite Naess’ reassurances, McMaster said more environmental studies should be conducted before the project is approved.

“It’s hard to be a guinea pig for a project,” McMaster said. “I don’t really know if there’s anything they could do to put everybody’s mind at ease.”

“I can assure you that Humboldt County will not be a guinea for Nordic,” Naess said, adding that the community is welcome to attend Nordic’s weekly Zoom informational meetings for clarity.

Local contractors sought

Since the project’s inception, Nordic has echoed the community’s call to hire locally. The project will create approximately 300 local jobs during construction and 150 permanent jobs when the facility is fully built out.

Though Nordic has selected national construction firm Gilbane Building Company as the construction manager, the company is working with Humboldt County-based engineers to find local contractors to work on the project. Nordic representatives will host a contractor pre-qualification informational meeting on May 18.

“This means much-needed jobs will come to Humboldt County,” said Jeff Hunerlach, Operating Engineers Local 3 district representative.

“As it is now, many of our members have to travel many hours away from home (Bay Area, etc.) to get work. This takes their spending power out of the local economy and also puts a strain on their families, as they are gone, sometimes for weeks at a time,” Hunerlach said. “Nordic seems to understand our take on making sure there is a local-hire component to this job”

Rob McBeth, president of O&M Industries, said Gilbane will select local contractors for various parts of the job and said O&M will be one of the local contractors bidding.

“While there will be out-of-town contractors involved just due to the sheer size of the project, there should be plenty of opportunity for local contractors and their local employees,” McBeth said. “I believe that this project will be of great benefit to the local economy with increased spending down to things such as restaurants, motels and a whole host of other local businesses.”

Hunerlach said Nordic has also agreed to hire local apprentices, creating an avenue for young people trying to further their apprenticeship careers and earn more money.

“The younger generation in our community really needs streamlined career paths, not just short-term jobs,” he said. “This fish farm will give them the opportunity to earn, while they learn and achieve status as journey-level operating engineers.”

To sign up for Nordic’s weekly Zoom informational sessions or to register for the pre-qualification meeting on May 18, email

The county will receive public comments on the proposed MND until May 24. Comments may be submitted to the Humboldt County Planning and Building Department, 3015 H Street, Eureka, CA 95501 or to planner Alyssa Suárez at

The full text of the initial study of the Nordic Aquafarms project is at