Agriculture and aquaculture. Both are farming. Both are important to Maine’s future, as more of both are needed to feed a hungry world. But both carry inherent risks to our environment if not practiced in responsible ways.

We learned from the Dust Bowl nearly a century ago that poor farming practices can have catastrophic consequences, as fertile topsoil literally blew away in our agricultural heartland. We can’t afford a modern-day version of that in our resource-rich Maine waters.

Poor practices in aquaculture, particularly fin-fish farming in sea pens, already have had dire consequences in places around the world, where the seafloor has been polluted by fish waste and uneaten, medicated, artificial fish food. Diseases such as sea lice and salmon infectious anemia have propagated easily in areas where too many fish are confined in too small a space for too long.

This is why an issue brewing in Down East Maine warrants very close scrutiny. It’s a project that should worry everyone who cares about our coast and our natural resource- and tourism-based economies.

American Aquafarms, which is really a Norwegian-financed company, wants to place a massive industrial salmon farm in the waters of Frenchman Bay right next to Acadia National Park.

The project will include 30 in-water fish pens, 150 feet in diameter; dozens of generators to power pumps and lights day and night; barges for feed and waste, and vessels ranging in size from 50 to 150 feet to process the fish and haul fish waste, fish food and thousands of gallons of diesel fuel.

The pens will use an experimental semi-closed system never before attempted on this scale. They will pump 4.1 billion gallons of minimally treated effluent into Frenchman Bay every day. That’s more than 2,000 times the thoroughly treated discharge from Bar Harbor’s sewage treatment plant!

The threat to the bay’s waters and ecosystem from water pollution, fish escapes and disease is alarmingly real. And this project is smack dab in the middle of one of the most beautiful and heavily visited areas in the entire U.S. The economy of Mount Desert Island and the entire Acadia region is significantly dependent on fishing and tourism. This project threatens both.

In a recent meeting hosted by American Aquafarms, Acadia National Park Superintendent Kevin Schneider was not allowed to deliver a statement about the project, which said in part: “While many other commercial fishing and aquaculture activities take place within Frenchman Bay, and exist in harmony with Acadia National Park, this development is totally different than existing aquaculture activities near the park. The scale of this development … is unprecedented in Maine and incongruous with the existing nature and setting of Frenchman Bay and its surrounding lands.”

Lobstermen who have fished these waters for generations also are opposed to this project. They stand to lose more than 100 acres of prime lobster bottom, as well as potentially far greater losses from pollution, disease and lost gear.

All 26 lobstermen who fish out of Bar Harbor presented a statement of opposition to the Town Council recently, and fishermen from around the bay are following suit. As a South Gouldsboro lobsterman has told The Ellsworth American: “I am 100 percent against it. It is going to be a lot of noise, a lot of pollution round the clock.”

So, why is this proposal even being considered? American Aquafarms would be prohibited from building a project of this scale in Norway. Yet, they come here, to a place where they have no ties, because our current rules and regulations lead them to believe it’s possible to do this in Maine.

This project must be stopped.  In all likelihood, it will destroy far more jobs than it will ever create, and it will forever change a pristine bay that holds a special place in Maine’s history and economy.

But this is about much more than just one place in eastern Maine. If industrial development of this scale and risk is allowed in the waters off Acadia, it can happen anywhere along our coast.

Wherever you live in Maine, this is your fight, too.

As Joni Mitchell warned, “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.” Let’s not take that risk.


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