A rendering shows the proposed salmon facility that would be built at the One North development in Millinocket. Courtesy of Our Katahdin

A business group that wants to cultivate Atlantic salmon believes it has found a home for a large-scale fish farm in an unlikely location: a former paper mill in landlocked Millinocket.

Portland-based Katahdin Salmon and Our Katahdin, an economic development nonprofit, have signed a lease for 45 acres at the site of the former Great Northern Paper mill, where they hope to build a land-based recirculating aquaculture system.

Town and state officials are touting the $120 million to $140 million project as a sustainable way to produce large quantities of Maine-grown salmon to meet a seemingly insatiable national appetite for seafood. The facility also would create dozens of jobs at the redeveloped mill site, now known as One North. 

However, other salmon farms – both land-based and in-the-water, netted pens – have generated community pushback in the last several years. Some opponents have argued that the farms are not ecologically sustainable and have other drawbacks. 

Katahdin Salmon says the Penobscot County facility would use 100% renewable hydropower, making it the greenest recirculating aquaculture operation of its size in the country. 

In a land-based recirculating aquaculture system, the full lifecycle of the salmon from egg to harvest is contained indoors. If approved, the facility would be compartmentalized to accommodate the different stages of growth, and connected with pipes to allow the salmon to swim from one stage to the next, the company said.


The high-tech systems circulate water through a filtration system that removes and sanitizes waste. The waste, in this case, would be dehydrated and sold to be reused as compost, biofuel or bait. 

The water recirculation results in a water savings of 95% to 99%, according to the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development. And the water leaving the fish farms is often of the same or higher quality as the water coming in. This closed-system aquaculture also means salmon can’t escape into local waterways.

Eventually, Katahdin Salmon plans to produce up to 10,000 tons of salmon, starting with 5,000 tons in the first stage of development and adding another 5,000 in the second. 

The facility is expected to create 80 full-time jobs at full production capacity, and another 100 to 120 during construction. Katahdin Salmon is still waiting on some permits and is aiming to start construction in the second half of 2024. 

Peter Jamieson, Millinocket town manager, said the joint outcome of good quality jobs and former mill rehabilitation is a “win-win” for the town. 

In a joint statement, Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King also lauded the arrival of new jobs and a new life for the old mill. “The arrival of Katahdin Salmon will be another exciting step toward the revitalization of the former Great Northern Paper mill site,” they said. 


The economic benefits of aquaculture extend beyond the coast, said Heather Johnson, commissioner of DECD.

“Land-based projects support our rural economies, harness the potential of renewable energy, and support millions of dollars of economic value and thousands of jobs across the state.”

There’s plenty of demand, but the U.S. isn’t producing nearly enough – more than 90% of the fresh seafood consumed in the U.S. arrives by air freight. 

In her 10-year economic development plan, Gov. Janet Mills includes the importance of pursuing sustainable fishing opportunities such as aquaculture “to complement traditional fishing and meet the growing demand for a traceable food supply that is changing the way we fish and farm.”


Large-scale aquaculture farms, particularly in-water finfish farms, have been criticized for years because of their high risks for pollution from nutrient and effluent buildup, harm to the wild fish population and the potential impact on the fish themselves from crowding, antibiotics and disease. 


But some think recirculating aquaculture systems are more environmentally friendly.

According to the DECD, Maine is specifically targeting land-based aquaculture. The state is well-positioned to become a global leader in the industry, the department said on its website.

“Fishing is a heritage industry in Maine, and at its foundation are the hard-working lobstermen and fishermen who have made a living on our oceans for many generations,” the department said. “The adoption of land-based aquaculture is an opportunity to evolve, diversify and strengthen this industry, ensuring all that are part of it are supported and thrive.” 

The Maine Department of Marine Resources, which licenses both water and land-based aquaculture leases, has four facilities that are licensed for land-based salmon farms: The University of New England, Palom Aquaculture in Gouldsboro, Nordic Aquafarms in Belfast and Whole Oceans in Bucksport. There’s also The Kingfish Company, a land-based yellow tail operation based in Jonesport.

The department has not yet received an application from Katahdin Salmon, said Jeff Nichols, spokesperson for the department. 

At least two of these, Nordic and Kingfish, have been mired in litigation – as has a net pen site in Frenchman Bay, proposed by American Aquafarms.


The Katahdin project is more similar to the Whole Oceans farm in Bucksport, which is also on the site of a former mill and already has the industrial infrastructure. Work on that site began in March 2022.

Marianne Naess, CEO and founder of Katahdin Salmon, is the former executive vice president of Nordic Aquafarms. She and her husband, Erik Heim, former president and co-founder of Nordic, left the company over the summer.

Naess said Thursday that the former mill is one of the best sites she has ever seen, with very clean water and solid existing infrastructure. She believes the Millinocket site could serve as a model for other recirculating aquaculture farms in the future. 

So far, public feedback on the new venture has been positive. 

“This is a community that really wants economic development and has spent a lot of time and energy into attracting businesses,” she said.

Katahdin Salmon will not be the only tenant at the 1,400-acre site that was once home to the mill.

The vision, according to Our Katahdin, which manages the One North site, is for it to be a center for the development and manufacturing of sustainable products. Our Katahdin hopes to attract tenants in forest products, including saw and pellet mills and mass timber, bio-based manufacturing, renewable energy, aquaculture and data storage.

Nautilus Data Technologies also has plans for a location on the site, and Arkansas-based Highland Carbon Solutions plans to build a wood pellet production facility there.

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