Aquaculture firm plans to develop former Navy site

Posted April 22, 2010, at 9:52 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:45 a.m.

GOULDSBORO, Maine — Despite the recent closure of a sardine cannery and concerns about the future of seafood processing in Maine, there is a Maine aquaculture company that is looking to expand and to move its base of operations into town.

Maine Halibut Farms, which has been under development at the University of Maine Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research in Franklin, has plans to construct a new facility on land formerly owned by the Navy in the village of Corea.

Earlier this month, Gouldsboro’s planning board approved a proposal to subdivide about 26 acres into four commercial lots, one of which has been reserved for Maine Halibut Farms.

The land, surrounding a former Navy building on the site, is owned by Eastern Maine Development Corp. EMDC’s goal is to develop all four sites with aquaculture or commercial fishery businesses, according to officials.

Alan Spear, owner of Maine Halibut Farms, said Thursday it is too early in the process to say how big an operating facility his firm might establish in Gouldsboro.

“None of that I’m prepared to discuss at this point,” he said. “We’re in the process of planning those details.”

He said he has spent “several years” developing aquaculture cultivation methods for halibut at the CCAR business incubator site in Franklin. Already, he said, he has been able to ship some of his product to market in New York City. Large halibut can grow to be several feet in length and can weigh several hundred pounds.

Spear said there is a strong market for farmed halibut. Developing a business plan for how to supply that market, he said, has been the tricky part.

“The challenge is all on the development side,” he said.

Spear said he is enthusiastic about locating his company is Gouldsboro. The site is close to the water and people in the area are familiar with and supportive of commercial fisheries, he said.

Spear said he hopes to submit development plans to the planning board within the next several months. If those plans are approved, Maine Halibut Farms could be operating in Gouldsboro within a year or two, he said.

Joel Greenwood, community planner for EMDC, said this week that the nonprofit organization owns about 40 acres of former Navy land in the middle of what is now part of the Petit Manan National Wildlife Refuge.

Greenwood said the lot being reserved for Maine Halibut Farms is about 12 acres. In all, about 26 acres of EMDC’s 40-acre parcel is being subdivided into four commercial lots that may be used for commercial aquaculture or fishery operations. The remaining 15 or so acres are considered wildlife habitat and are not being developed, he said.

The site is well-suited for aquaculture operations because of its proximity to the ocean and because it already was developed by the Navy, according to Greenwood. The land already has an access road and power to the subdivided property, he said. Should other firms choose to build in the subdivision, he said, they could split other infrastructure costs such as seawater intake systems with Maine Halibut Farms.

“A lot of the infrastructure already is in place,” Greenwood said. “The aquaculture thing was seen as the way to go.”

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