GOULDSBORO, Maine — A Connecticut startup company is looking to establish a local presence while getting into the high-end seafood market.
Palom Aquaculture LLC is applying to town, state and federal officials for permits to build and operate a land-based salmon farm on former Navy property in the village of Corea.
Bryan Woods, a partner in the firm who will oversee operations at the facility, said Friday that local officials have given their initial approval to the proposal but are waiting to receive design blueprints for a building that would be on-site before they issue a building permit.
Woods said Palom is planning to acquire two lots where the Navy used to have an antenna, which was known locally as the “elephant cage,” that was used as part of operations at Schoodic Point before the base shut down in 2002. Hundreds of acres of surrounding land are part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge.
The aquaculture firm is hoping to construct a building roughly 125 feet by 330 feet on the former Navy property, Woods said. Palom Aquaculture also has applied to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for permits to extract water from and to discharge it back into nearby Prospect Harbor.
Woods said the company plans to filter and reuse the water it draws from the harbor and so would not have a high exchange rate between the ocean and the 20 salmon-rearing tanks it plans to have inside the building.
“Probably about 2 percent of the water will be returned to Prospect Harbor,” he said.
The company plans to avoid using pesticides, antibiotics or growth hormones in its operations, according to Woods, though it would use some mild chemicals as part of its routine cleaning of tanks. There are no organic standards for the aquaculture industry, he said, but Palom plans to raise the fish in a low-impact, sustainable way and to market them accordingly as a high-end product.
Eventually, he said, Palom hopes to produce 2 million pounds of salmon a year, perhaps by 2017.
“It will take us awhile to get up” to that output, he said.
According to Maine Department of Marine Resources statistics, the amount of farmed salmon produced in Maine from 2006 through 2010 ranged from 8.5 million to 24.5 million pounds annually. Figures for 2011 aren’t available.
Woods said his firm could employ seven to 10 people initially. If things go well, he added, it could receive its first shipment of juvenile salmon this fall and have product on the market sometime in 2014.
“We want to break ground this year,” he said.
Approximately 40 acres of the former Navy property now is owned by Eastern Maine Development Corp., which hopes to develop much of it into sites that will be used by aquaculture or commercial fishery businesses. Maine Halibut Farms, which has been incubating its business about 20 miles away at the University of Maine Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research in Franklin, is developing some of the other land at the Corea site.
Palom is interested in Maine because of its cold water and because of the marine aquaculture research and development activity in the state, according to Woods. He said he has met officials at the Maine Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research and at the National Cold Water Marine Aquaculture Center, which is run by USDA next to the UMaine site. Palom hopes to be able to partner with the research facilities in developing effective salmon aquaculture methods in Corea, he said.
Land-based operations tend to have higher startup costs, according to Woods, because of initial capital expenses such as equipment and construction. But the site in Corea already has access easements to the ocean, he said, and by cultivating fish on land the company should be able to monitor its fish, water conditions and equipment more easily than most sea-based aquaculture operators.
“You have a lot more control,” Woods said. “And you can actually increase your [salmon] growth rate.”
Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.