More than 40 people, speaking for themselves or representing various organizations, roundly criticized a proposal to site a large salmon farm in Frenchman Bay during a public meeting held online Thursday by state environmental regulators.
“It will endanger more jobs than this project ever will create,” James West, a commercial fisherman from Sorrento, told Maine Department of Environmental Protection officials. “It will devastate this bay forever. It’s just a big accident waiting to happen if DEP approves their permit.”
Maine DEP held the meeting via Zoom to get feedback from the public about American Aquafarms’ applications for permits to discharge treated wastewater into the bay.
West said that fisherman and small-scale aquaculture growers in the area depend on the health of the bay’s pristine waters for their livelihood.
The Norwegian-backed company is seeking state approval to lease two 60-acre sites in Frenchman Bay where they would use 15 floating pens (a total of 30 between the two sites), each 150 feet wide, to produce 30,000 metric tons, or about 66 million pounds, of fish each year.
Company officials have said the pens would have “cutting-edge” designs to contain fish waste, control water temperature and prevent both fish escapes and infiltration by predators and sea lice.
But critics of the project have said the technology has not been proven to be effective, and that the scale of the proposal is unprecedented and poses a threat to the ecology of Frenchman Bay. More than 4 billion gallons of treated wastewater would be pumped from the pens into the bay every day and, if something should go wrong with the efforts to contain the fish effluent or to keep the fish healthy, the impact on the communities surrounding the bay would be widespread.
Because of the size of the project, the company’s approach to treating fish excrement before releasing water into the bay should have to meet state standards as a solid waste facility — something that would never be approved in the middle of Frenchman Bay, more than one speaker said. Many also said that models of currents in the bay show that very little water gets flushed out of the bay during the tidal cycle, which means that whatever byproducts or additives remain in the discharged water will circulate for extended periods in the bay, affecting its water quality.
“Under no circumstances should this application proceed,” Randi Spivak of the Center for Biological Diversity told DEP officials. “There’s too much risk.”
Other concerns raised during the meeting include the use of large amounts of diesel fuel to run generators that would produce electricity for all the motorized equipment on site, medicine and chemicals used to treat salmon that become sick or are afflicted by parasites, and greater potential for harmful algal blooms caused by increased nutrients and phosphates in the bay.
Representatives from Acadia National Park, Frenchman Bay United, Island Institute, National Parks Conservation Association, Natural Resources Council of Maine, Oceana, Protect Maine’s Fishing Heritage Foundation, the Sierra Club and the town of Sorrento also spoke in opposition to the proposal.
Mary Erin Casale, spokeswoman for American Aquafarms, said Friday that the Maine DEP meeting on Thursday was just one step of that agency’s review process, and that the state Department of Marine Resources and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also will put the salmon farm proposal through a “vigorous” review that will continue to allow for public feedback.
“We are confident that our project will meet these exacting standards and lead the way in what’s next for our waterfront industries,” Casale said. “Our clean, closed-pen [and] ocean-based system addresses major challenges in the traditional aquaculture industry by controlling waste and preventing escapes.”
The pens’ design will eliminate the threat of parasitic sea lice and reduce the need for harmful chemicals, she said, and the pen sites will be designed to be quiet and as unobtrusive as possible.
“American Aquafarms is committed to listening, to making improvements and meeting the high standards that Maine demands,” Casale said. “Ultimately, this project — and a successful aquaculture industry across the state — will result in a stronger, more diversified coastal economy and a healthier, sustainable environment for us all.”