Less than a month after Nordic Aquafarms announced a deal with the city of Belfast, Maine, to build the world’s largest aquaculture tanks in the midcoast town, a Maine-based company announced its purchase of a nearby site for the same purpose.

Bucksport’s former Verso paper mill site will be repurposed as Portland-based Whole Oceans’ $250 million investment in farmed Atlantic salmon.

Whole Oceans plans to locate its land-based salmon farm in midcoast Maine.

As with the Belfast site, local stakeholders have questions about water use, discharge and waste management. Last week, Nordic Aquafarms held a public community meeting to answer questions about their operational plans.

“As a commercial fisherman in northern Penobscot Bay, I did have some questions pertaining to the supply of water going into the fish as well as any discharge they would be introducing into my area,” said Travis Otis, from nearby Searsport, who attended the meeting. “With the facility being entirely land based, with the sole exception being the supply and discharge pipes for the brackish water, that really helped to give me a certain level of peace of mind. When they further explained the process during their presentation as to how they would reduce the levels of discharge in comparison to a water-based operation — claims of 90 percent — I was very pleased to hear about how important the local environment is to them.”

While Nordic Aquafarms plans to break ground in 2019, Whole Oceans says it will begin construction in August this year.

Since Verso announced it was shuttering the Bucksport mill in December 2014, the town has entertained potential investors scouting the mill site for various uses. The vacant mill is in a beautiful and strategic location on the tidal and fast-running Penobscot River with access to both brackish and fresh water.

"Aquaculture is a centerpiece of our state's ocean economy. As a result of careful planning and effort, Whole Oceans is bringing a new opportunity and economic diversification to a former industrial site, creating renewed economic vitality and jobs," said Sen. Angus King (I-Maine). "The innovative Whole Oceans aquaculture facility will reflect our ocean heritage in a new, environmentally sustainable manner."

Whole Oceans claims it has presold 10 years worth of production — that’s 50,000 tons a year, or half a million tons total. Nordic Aquafarms projects it will produce 33,000 tons annually.

If this new wave of aquaculture can assuage local fears of water contamination, it will be a veritable home run for coastal Maine.

Jessica Hathaway is the editor in chief of National Fisherman. She has been covering the fishing industry for 15 years, serves on the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute's Communications Committee and is a National Fisheries Conservation Center board member.

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