The town of Belfast, Maine, and a Norwegian aquaculture company have entered an agreement that could see the production of farmed salmon in the town to the tune of 60 jobs.*
Nordic Aquafarms plans to invest north of $450 million into a 40-acre land-based tank farm on a site they have contracted to buy from the Belfast Water District. And I think it’s safe to say Mainers are freaking out about it. As much as Mainers ever freak out, anyway.
Responses run the gamut from, “Did you hear about them Norwegians, deah?” to “Well isn’t that cunning?” (OK, maybe that’s just how it goes in my head, imagining old-timers talking about it over coffee and pie at the bean supper.)
But the people of Belfast are cautiously ecstatic. The deal with the water district includes 26 acres and an annual volume of water (the other 14 acres are currently privately owned). Excitement about new jobs and investment is tempered only by unknowns, like what do tanked salmon eat? How will the waste be managed? How many of the 60 jobs in the initial 2-year investment phase will be filled by locals?
Nordic Aquafarms CEO Erik Heim noted that the facility will be designed to produce a low-impact discharge of water that is free of chemicals and medications. He added that all waste will be recycled, and the site design will incorporate renewable energy.
Though my penchant runs toward wild fisheries, I also recognize that fish farming is not going away. Some aquaculture is inherently beneficial to wild fisheries, like mussels, clams and oysters. Ocean net pens have improved over the decades, but they are still far from clean or beneficial — only marginally less harmful, assuming they work as planned. If a company is committed to farming salmon or any other finfish, I much prefer the use of land-based tanks.
Following the West Coast salmon spill this year, net pens are under more well-deserved scrutiny. If we’re going to pour resources into improving finfish farming techniques, why not home in on tanks that keep the farm stock separated from the wild stock?
If Nordic Aquafarms reaches its goal to pump out 66 million pounds of salmon a year (about 7 percent of American salmon consumption), they will certainly be giving traditional salmon farmers a run for their money.
*Full disclosure: My husband was contracted to do some site work for Nordic Aquafarms. That’s Maine for ya.