One of the things that’s increasingly clear is just how much hangs on the American Aquafarms project in Maine.

The world is waking up to why in-water fish pens are bad news. Argentina, Washington state, Oregon, California, and now British Columbia have banned them for salmon farming, not only for their impact on wild salmon populations, but also on the entire marine environment.

But Maine is just begging to flirt with finfish aquaculture and its perils. Recently the sole open net salmon operator in Maine, a Canadian company called Cooke Aquaculture suffered a large die-off at one of its farms.

The die-off occurred because of low oxygen in the pens near Black Island – something the company should have been closely monitoring. Maine’s regulatory agencies, the Department of Marine Resources (DMR) and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) were not notified or on site until days after the dead fish were removed.

Now American Aquafarms is looking to build a farm that’s six times the size of that Cooke facility. It would be the largest ocean-based farm in North America. It uses a new technology – what the firm misleadingly calls “closed pens” or “eco-pens.”

They are neither, and they have never been used on this scale before. Maine will be ground zero, and if we allow this green-washed, environmental calamity, this technology will propagate down the Maine coast and throughout the world.


Here are three reasons why this proposal should be rejected.

American Aquafarms claims the use of this novel ‘closed-pen’ technology distinguishes it from other open net pen aquaculture operations. Indeed, it’s the first time this technology will be used at this scale or to raise salmon to maturity. The only test of this technology in North America ended in failure earlier this year.

Second, regarding scale, this project is six times larger than other existing aquaculture projects in Maine where just two of the locations discharge 4.1 billion gallons of untreated waste/day – an amount  three times the treated sewage discharged by all of Manhattan.

Third, with regard to regional impact, it’s hard to imagine an aquaculture project with more impact along the Maine coast. The DEP stated last summer that discharges from the lease sites would only impact the town of Gouldsboro. That is totally contradicted by two independent state-of-the-art 3D models done at the University of Maine and the University of Rhode Island.

And coming back to why the American Aquafarm project has broader significance for Maine and for salmon production globally, consider the following: There’s huge pressure from Norwegian capital to move to Maine.

First, our aquaculture lease fees are a one-size-fits-all structure; they don’t reflect the huge fees other countries impose on industrial scale aquaculture. Over a project’s term, Maine’s lease fees – just $100 per acre per years – cost thousands of times less than the comparable license fees in Norway, making it effectively free to operate here.


Norway also requires local permits to give communities siting control. Taken together, these factors leave our communities and regulatory agencies ill-equipped to manage the challenges.

Next, this project’s biomass is 20 times larger than Norway permits. Unlike Norway, the most experienced producer worldwide, we have no salmon-specific regulations to control water quality or biosecurity, or to support an owner-operated working waterfront.

So capital markets and the worldwide salmon industry are paying close attention to whether this project gets permitted, knowing that if it is, it will be game-on in Maine.

Adding to that financial pressure, this project’s scale and the greenwashing associated with false claims of supposedly ‘eco-friendly’ closed pens make it a poster child for reinvigorating ocean-based salmon farming to counter years of bad press and adverse environmental impact surrounding open-net pen farming.

Let’s not allow Maine to become the testing grounds for an industry that’s so dirty many regions worldwide rejected it after confronting hard-earned truths of environmental and economic disaster. Let’s instead learn from best practices and lessons offered worldwide.

— Special to the Press Herald

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: