By an overwhelming show of hands, Gouldsboro voters on Monday night approved a 6-month moratorium on large-scale aquaculture operations.
With a little more than 200 voters at the special town meeting, only 3 people held their voting cards up to vote against the temporary ban. The rest raised their cards in favor of it, according to town officials and other people who attended the meeting.
The vote was aimed at delaying potential approval of a proposal from American Aquafarms to establish a salmon farm in Frenchman Bay so the town can have time to update its development ordinances.
The moratorium is retroactive to Sept. 16, 2021, when local selectmen decided to begin the process of drafting it, and will last 180 days.
American Aquafarms is seeking state approval to lease two 60-acre sites in the bay where it would use 15 floating pens, each of them 150 feet wide, at each site, to produce 30,000 metric tons, or about 66 million pounds, of salmon each year.
Fish grown at the site would be processed at a fish plant in the Gouldsboro village of Prospect Harbor that for decades functioned as a sardine cannery and, in the past decade, as a lobster processing site. American Aquafarms has an agreement to acquire the plant from the current owner, Maine Fair Trade Lobster, contingent upon getting approval for the salmon farm.
The development ban applies only to any approvals and permits the company would need to get from the town to redevelop the lobster processing plant. The moratorium does not apply to American Aquafarms’ efforts to get approval from the state to grow salmon in Frenchman Bay.
Many area residents and organizations have criticized the proposal, saying the pens would jeopardize water quality in the bay, create gear conflicts with local fishermen, and that the large, industrial scale of the project is inappropriate for the site, which abuts Bar Harbor and is clearly visible from Acadia National Park. Critics also have said the company’s use of the local seafood plant likely would bring heavy truck traffic to town and could impact local water supplies.
Company officials said last month that if Gouldsboro voters were to approve the proposed moratorium, it will continue to work with town officials to help make sure the town’s interests are protected and to bring investment and jobs to Gouldsboro.
A company spokesperson did not respond Tuesday morning to a request for comment about the vote.
Jacqueline Weaver, a board member with both Friends of Schoodic Peninsula and Frenchman Bay United, said Monday’s vote shows that the majority of local residents do not support the company’s plans.
“American Aquafarms has said they need community backing to succeed,” she said. “The vote was overwhelming.”