Forty years ago, Belfast was probably best known for poultry processing. Rendered chicken fat slicked the water in the harbor, and feathers flying in the wind were jokingly called “snowstorms in July.”

The industry collapsed in the 1980s, and the city has since remade itself as a community that takes environmental sustainability seriously.

So, it’s no surprise that Belfast is the preferred site for a Norwegian company looking to build a state-of-the art, land-based aquaculture facility, which requires clean, cold water to raise salmon from eggs to adulthood. And it’s also no surprise that the project is under fire by some local activists who say that it’s too big and would destroy an unspoiled wooded area.

We have all become familiar with the stories of Maine industries in decline, from plant closings to groundfish catch limits, but few of us can remember when Maine’s waterfronts were busy job sites with more workers than tourists. The kind of conflict seen in Belfast is playing out along the Maine coast, as the long-awaited emergence of an aquaculture sector starts to take shape, and unfamiliar uses are starting to show up in places that had grown quiet.

OPPOSITION BUILDS

Opponents of Nordic Aquafarms, the salmon farm developer, have filed a lawsuit against the city for approving a zoning change, hoping to kill the project by delaying it. In Brunswick and Kittery, neighbors are voicing their opposition to oyster farms that are seeking approval to expand. The outcome of these fights could determine whether this industry will be able to take root and thrive.

At this point, we’re rooting for the industry. Nobody wants to see a return to lightly regulated polluters like the chicken processors of the past, but for the sake of the people who need good jobs, the state has a responsibility to be known for something beside nice views.

According to the United Nations, the global supply of fish would need to double over the next three decades to feed the world. Meanwhile, many wild fisheries are in decline. Right now, Maine’s seafood industry is overly dependent on lobstering. It’s not fully known how the fishery will be affected by climate change, but it’s an established fact that lobsters are migrating to colder waters and once-healthy fisheries to our south have collapsed.

FEEDING THE WORLD

Expanding aquaculture is projected to supply two-thirds of the world’s seafood, and it is considered both a way to protect the food supply from climate change and a way to contribute to a lower carbon profile than other food production methods do.

Maine’s coastline, the presence of world-class research institutions and proximity to the East Coast markets put the state in an enviable position. Allowing the growth of aquaculture here can add to Maine’s exports, bringing jobs and money into communities that have been left behind by the collapse of traditional industries.

Farm-raised salmon, oysters and seaweed all provide ways for people to make a living in a sustainable way, and they present other opportunities, such as recycling waste into products like nutrient-rich fertilizers or the biodegradable shopping bags made from discarded lobster shells, recently developed by researchers in Canada.

All Mainers should demand that our environmental standards are as tough as they need to be and that they are enforced consistently. But we should also be open to new uses of our shared resources that can take the place of the industries we’ve lost.