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A Maine-based company calling itself Whole Oceans announced on Thursday its plans to purchase most of the former Verso paper mill site in Bucksport and build a land-based aquafarm to raise Atlantic salmon.
Whole Oceans CEO Robert Piasio, a specialist in land-based aquaculture technologies, species, markets, distribution and personnel who grew up in Yarmouth, said the company has spent six years researching and preparing plans to create a state-of-the-art recirculating aquaculture system to growing worldwide demand for farm-raised Atlantic salmon.
The company plans a phased $250 million investment at Bucksport and projects that at full production its aquafarm will create hundreds of direct jobs and be able to produce 50,000 metric tons of Atlantic salmon per year.
“The time for recirculating aquaculture systems has arrived and Whole Oceans will make Bucksport a global leader in sustainable Atlantic salmon production,” Piasio said in a news release. “But this story is much bigger than just Whole Oceans. This story is also about the resiliency and determination of towns throughout Maine that make projects like this possible. Whole Oceans is entering a long-term partnership with the community of Bucksport, a responsibility we accept with the greatest care, and together we will strive to make Whole Oceans a source of pride every single day.”
The announcement comes less than a month after Nordic Aquafarms, a Norwegian company, disclosed plans to invest up to $500 million in a land-based Atlantic salmon aquafarm in Belfast, about 20 miles from Whole Ocean’s planned Bucksport site.
In a FAQs sheet provided with its news release, Whole Oceans outlined its business plan, timeline and the worldwide market for farm-raised Atlantic salmon:
Whole Oceans’ announcement comes less than a month after Nordic Aquafarms, headquartered in Norway and one of the largest international developers of land-based aquaculture, announced its plans to build one of the world's largest land-based salmon farms in Belfast, with its total capital investment expected to be between $450 million and $500 million.
Nordic Aquafarms stated it had signed agreements to purchase 40 acres on the outskirts of Belfast to construct in several phases a land-based salmon operation with annual salmon production capacity of 33,000 tons, or 66 million pounds.
In the project's first phase over the next two years, the company said it would invest $150 million and hire 60 people. When fully built out, the facility will represent a total capital investment of between $450 million to $500 million and will be an end-to-end operation, including hatcheries and fish processing.
"We see this an attractive opportunity to bring our know-how, solutions and capital strength to the United States," Nordic Aquafarms CEO Erik Heim said in a prepared statement. "We are committed to producing super fresh, high-quality seafood with a low environmental footprint for U.S. consumers. That requires local production, and we believe that we have found an ideal site here in Maine. We look forward to becoming a responsible and contributing member of the Maine seafood industry."
The Bangor Daily News reported today that Nordic Aquafarms and Whole Oceans will face competition from another large-scale, land-based salmon operation in Miami, Fla., called Atlantic Sapphire, which is building a $350 million land-based aquafarm with an annual production capacity of 10,000 tons.
Piasio told the newspaper that the worldwide market for farm-raised Atlantic salmon is large enough for all three companies to thrive.
“This opportunity in the U.S. is far larger than one, two, three, six or 10 entrants,” he told the newspaper. “It’s a tremendous opportunity and it’s a long-term strategy for the entire U.S. industry to make a dent in that 500,000 ton number. That’s a big number.”
Piasio stated in the company’s news release, “Over time, Whole Oceans’ mission is to capture 10% of the U.S. Atlantic salmon market using only earth friendly technologies. We will create hundreds of jobs and cement Maine’s leadership in the future of land-based aquaculture.”
Bucksport Town Manager Sue Lessard said in a news release that the town has been working closely with Whole Oceans as the company developed its proposal to repurpose the abandoned Verso paper mill site, which closed in December 2014, resulting in the layoffs of nearly 550 workers.
“We have been working diligently for the past two years to find businesses willing to invest significant capital and provide good jobs in the region,” said Lessard. “Along with Rich Rotella, Bucksport’s community and economic development officer, we have been speaking with the Whole Oceans team for some time and are excited they have chosen Bucksport for this amazing facility. This business will provide an environmentally friendly industrial component for Bucksport while utilizing the assets of the former mill site. It will be an important partner in helping to move the community forward as we improve our economic vitality and diversity.”
Maine Gov. Paul R. LePage agreed, noting that his administration and regulatory agencies have been monitoring the progress of Whole Oceans’ business plans for the Bucksport site for some time.
“’Maine is open for business’ has been my motto from Day 1,” LePage said in a news release. “Whole Oceans and its Maine-grown team will be an important addition to our state’s economy and transformative for Bucksport.”
Piasio, whose prior experience includes a 20-plus-year career as a finance and investment banking professional, said his company’s business plan was developed with the help of a team of global leaders in land-based aquafarm technology, including Billund Aquaculture based in Denmark and the Conservation Fund’s Freshwater Institute in West Virginia.
“The Whole Oceans team brings together the world’s longest and unmatched track record of success,” he said.