Maine Aquaculture Projects Dredge Up Memories Of Polluted Industrial Waterways

Alex Whitebrook/ November 13, 2018/ News/ 0 comments

At a recent hearing in Kittery, so many people showed up to weigh in on the proposed expansion of an oyster-growing operation in a local creek, Department of Marine Resources hearing officer Amanda Ellis had to make a choice.

“Based on the number that we’re seeing we’ve made the decision to postpone the hearing,” she said.

But opponents such as Mike Dowling were still plenty willing to talk.

“I have many concerns, there’s a whole group of us, introducing over 2,500 objects suspended or floating into the creek creates a pinch point, and everyone uses that little sandy beach to go swimming,” he said.

Such complaints do arise with aquaculture enterprises, with neighbors — sometimes including fishermen — worrying about water access, environmental effects and property values. Up the coast in Maquoit Bay, near Brunswick, a proposed 40-acre shellfish farm is meeting some stiff resistance.

And then there’s Belfast, where a proposal to site what would be one of the world’s largest indoor salmon farms is stirring talk of the darker days, when the city was dominated by chicken processors.
“The harbor was basically one of the most disgusting bodies of water you can imagine, full of blood and feathers.”

“The harbor was basically one of the most disgusting bodies of water you can imagine, full of blood and feathers. All the effluent dumped directly out into the bay,” says Ellie Daniels, who owns the Green Store in the heart of Belfast’s lively downtown.

Daniels’ home a few miles away abuts the 40-acre wooded site where Nordic Aquafarms, a Norwegian company, wants to build its half-billion-dollar “recirculating aquaculture system.” She is among many in Belfast who say state and local officials short-circuited public processes with early approvals, and among those who fear the city could be re-industrialized.

“It’s the scale of the thing,” Daniels says. “It’s the fact that it’s a large monoculture; it’s only been theorized that the technologies can work.”

Daniels is now one of three project opponents running for city council.

“We just have different objectives in life. And that’s fair. I have to respect that in the end,” says Erik Heim, Nordic Aquafarms’ CEO.

Heim says that in contrast to open-sea salmon pens, his indoor fish will need no antibiotics or pesticides to stay healthy. Skeptics say viral infections will still be an issue, and they worry about discharges to the bay as well. But he says that will treated to reduce potentially harmful elements, such as nitrogen and phosphorous.

“That we don’t want to see go into the bay. So I think in the end you have a residual fraction of what you otherwise would have had,” he says.

Despite meeting as much as 7 percent of the nation’s entire salmon demand, he adds, there would be a maximum of about 10 trucks a day backing up to the farm’s cargo bays.

“You can stuff a lot of fish into those tractor-trailers,” he says.

One neighbor, Gef Flimlin, who is building a retirement home next to the site, has a bit of a split perspective on the Nordic Aquafarms project.

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