American Aquafarms plans to acquire the Main Fair Trade Lobster plant in Gouldsboro and to invest between $50 million and $100 million to redevelop the site as a salmon hatchery and processing plant, but the sale is contingent upon getting state approval to grow salmon at 30 pens in the ocean off Bar Harbor, according to a company official. Some groups oppose the proposal, saying such a large-scale operation would be inappropriate for Frenchman Bay. Credit: Courtesy of Maine Fair Trade Lobster

A Norwegian-owned aquaculture venture says it has filed plans with the state in hopes of getting permits it will need to cultivate salmon in the ocean off Bar Harbor.

It also will need to overcome organized opposition to its plans in order to come to fruition.

American Aquafarms plans to place 30 floating pens, each 150 feet wide, for growing salmon at two sites in Frenchman Bay, if it can get approval from the Maine Department of Marine Resources. The firm, headed by CEO Mikael Roenes, also has an agreement to purchase the Maine Fair Trade Lobster plant in Gouldsboro if the project is approved, and to convert it into a salmon hatchery and processing plant.

The project is one of four major aquaculture projects planned along Maine’s coast, and would be the only one of those four that would grow fish at sea. The others — proposed for Belfast, Bucksport and Jonesport — all would grow fish in large tanks on land.

Roenes has projected that the operation would produce 30,000 metric tons, or about 66 million pounds, of fish each year.

The projected scale of the fish farm would make the operation similar to the size of Nordic Aquafarms’ proposed land-based operation in Belfast, where that company has said it plans to invest $500 million and produce roughly 73 million pounds of salmon each year.

Whole Oceans has projected it will invest $180 million and initially produce 11 million pounds of salmon annually in Bucksport, while Kingfish Maine has said it will invest $110 million in Jonesport and produce about 13 million pounds of yellowtail each year.

At least two groups have formed to oppose Roenes’ plans, however, and say such a large-scale project would be inappropriate for Frenchman Bay, which is lined with shorefront homes and where many fishermen harvest lobster, scallops and other species.

Crystal Canney, head of a group called Protect Maine’s Fishing Heritage Foundation, said that the group, along with traditional fishermen and small-scale aquaculture growers, is concerned that such a large “industrialized” project would have “a tremendous impact on the Maine coast and the lobster industry.”

She said the group has not yet seen American Aquafarm’s specific proposal to the Department of Marine Resources, which is not expected to be publicly available until after department staff reviews the applications.

Ted O’Meara said that a group of residents from the town of Hancock that he represents is also waiting to review American Aquafarms’ application. O’Meara has said the group is concerned about Roenes’ history — he was found guilty in 2008 in Norway of defrauding investors in various companies he had set up and was ordered to repay $2.2 million — and that the large pens proposed by American Aquafarms would be inappropriate for Frenchman Bay.

Roenes has said that the large pens would use advancements in design to contain fish waste, prevent fish escapes, and to keep parasitic sea lice out, but O’Meara said the pens still would pose a threat to the environmental health of the bay.

“Massive sea pen arrays like the ones being proposed by Mr. Roenes have no place in Frenchman’s Bay, no matter how different he says they are,” O’Meara has said.

Still, Roenes said Wednesday that the pen technology is “sustainable” and touted the expected economic impact of the project, which he said will result in the creation of “hundreds” of jobs in Maine.

Peter Vigue, chairman of Pittsfield-based Cianbro — which a spokesperson for American Aquafarms described as a “strategic partner” in the project — echoed Roenes’ comments on the economic benefits.

“This is an important investment in the state of Maine and a lower carbon future,” Vigue said Wednesday.

Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....