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February 15, 2023

Frenchman Bay group pushes for policy changes to guide fish farms

rendering of big net with fish Courtesy / American Aquafarms A coalition of organizations is advocating for policy changes to guide ocean-based net-pen fish farms in Maine waters.The recommendations arose after a proposal by a Norwegian company to install a 120-acre salmon farm in Frenchman Bay.

A local group is pushing for policy changes in response to a proposal for a 120-acre salmon farm in Frenchman Bay and is calling for a moratorium on approvals and renewals of net-pen fish farms.

Frenchman Bay United said a temporary halt is needed “because Maine is not adequately prepared to evaluate the long-term environmental and economic consequences of projects like American Aquafarms or to provide appropriate oversight if such projects are approved,” according to a news release.

The Gouldsboro-based group rose to oppose a plan by Norwegian company American Aquafarms to install the salmon farm on Frenchman Bay, where it eventually wants to produce 30,000 metric tons, or 66 million pounds, of salmon annually and to build a hatchery and processing facility in Gouldsboro.

The proposal was nixed last April by the Maine Department of Marine Resources when the DMR determined that the source of Atlantic salmon proposed by American Aquafarms didn’t meet the agency’s criteria for a “qualified source/hatchery” as defined in agency regulations.

In July, Thomas Brennan, a Portland-based spokesman for American Aquafarms, told Mainebiz the company’s next step would be to open further dialogue with the DMR and resubmit new applications as soon as possible.

In anticipation of American Aquafarms returning with new applications, “we felt it also was important to take what we have learned over the past two years and make some recommendations to strengthen Maine’s regulatory framework and oversight capabilities,” Henry Sharpe, president of Frenchman Bay United, said in a news release. 

He added, “American Aquafarms’ initial applications exposed serious weaknesses in Maine’s ability to thoroughly consider the impacts of industrial-scale aquaculture projects and properly safeguard our coastal waters.” 

The group said it wants the state to convene stakeholders and take time to develop an appropriate response to net-pen aquaculture. 

The coalition also argues that local communities should be given the same powers over projects in their waters that they have over projects on land, noting that all the large-scale land-based fish farms under development in Maine had to get local planning board approval, while no local approval was required for American Aquafarms because its proposed fish farm was in the ocean. 

Additional proposals include:

  • Stronger environmental protections for coastal waters and greater local control over fish farm approvals. 
  • More stringent nitrogen discharge thresholds to prevent algal blooms and protect eelgrass.
  • Better modeling of currents and discharges to determine the full impact on local waters.
  • Regulating the transport, storage and use of diesel fuel used at net-pen fish farms.
  • Limiting biomass and stocking densities in net pens.
  • Increasing permit and lease fees to fund the technical resources and staffing levels to evaluate proposals.
  • Shortening lease terms from the current 20 years to allow for greater accountability and public input.
  • Strengthening laws and regulations to enable better monitoring of discharge and water quality around pens and to increase penalties for non-compliance. 

Frenchman Bay United said it is sharing its recommendations with the public, legislators and other organizations.

“We hope that some of our recommendations can find their way into legislation or rule changes this year, but we recognize that others may take more time to implement,” Jeri Bowers and Mike Hyde, FBU board members who are leading the organization's legislative outreach efforts, said in a joint statement.

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