Credit: George Danby

Maine will benefit from a diversified economic development, especially in fisheries and aquaculture, where Maine already has a strong reputation as premier seafood source.

While the lobster industry remains the cornerstone of the Maine seafood industry, products like sea vegetables are gaining interest. New means of fish farming can further complement Maine’s economic growth.

Maine does not have to choose one or the other, as a recent guest columnist suggested. All of these can be developed in concert, if pursued responsibly. Diversification will make the seafood industry more resilient over time.

The U.S. imports more than 90 percent of its fresh seafood. Fish is an important part of the U.S. diet, and consumption will certainly increase due to its health benefits. The question is how do we secure safe, traceable and environmentally friendly seafood for the future?

With wild-caught fish declining due to overfishing, pollution and climate change, fish farming is now the primary means of meeting demand growth in the U.S. and internationally. But growing this industry must be based on the highest environmental standards. That requires the kind of innovation and new thinking that Nordic Aquafarms is bringing to Maine.

Land-based seafood farming takes place indoors in a controlled environment that reduces fish mortality and ensures a consistent, high-quality product. Land-based farms are widely recognized as the best approach for protecting wild salmon populations by respected organizations such as the Atlantic Salmon Federation and the Monterey Aquarium Seafood Watch.

In fact, the proposed Belfast salmon farm addresses many of the historical concerns related to ocean farming.

The end of the sea lice problem — Land-based farms remove the hosts for sea lice and other parasites from the ocean. Water filters and treatment systems prevent sea lice from entering the fish tanks. This eliminates the needs for medication and treatment for parasites, which is good news for the wild salmon, the welfare of the farmed fish and ultimately the consumer.

Very low risk of fish escape — The Belfast facility will be located more than 300 feet from any shoreline. All transfer of fish happens between buildings in the facility, and there are mechanical barriers throughout the farm, making fish escape virtually impossible. Our design is very different than locating a hatchery at the shoreline where fish are pumped into well boats. But even in those cases escapes are rare.

Low impact discharge — Any fish production involves discharging nutrients in the water from feed consumption, but land-based farms can remove the majority these nutrients through water treatment technology, and recycle them for fertilizers, biogas and other beneficial uses. We intend to show in our permit applications that existing technologies can enable reduction of most nutrients down to just 1 percent of what a typical sea pen discharges.

In Belfast, our minimal residual discharge will take place far from the shoreline, unlike almost all other existing discharge along the Maine coast. Ocean currents will quickly disperse and dilute the remaining nutrients, and thus pose no harm to humans or sea life.

Sustainable fish feeds — One of the main challenges the fish feed industry is how to sustainably supply a growing fish farming industry. As a result, the amount of fish meal used in feed has been steadily reduced and substituted with other ingredients. Feed suppliers are continuously developing and improving, and we are working with them to find the best formula for our fish, consistent with our commitment not to use GMO ingredients or take any fish from the Gulf of Maine.

We also see many potential synergies with other parts of the seafood industry. For example, sea vegetables thrive on nutrients, creating an interesting symbiosis between fish farming and sea vegetables. Heads and guts from properly processed fish could possibly be used for lobster bait in the future, and also has a high value in the biotech and pet feed industries. The seafood industry can be a major contributor to the recycling economy, and we see many opportunities for cooperation between our facility and other seafood operations in Maine.

Moreover, as Nordic Aquafarms markets fresh, responsibly grown, high-quality Maine salmon throughout the eastern U.S., we will in turn help create opportunities for other Maine seafood products to be discovered as part of a more comprehensive effort to build the Maine seafood brand.

Nordic Aquafarms is fully aligned with the values that Maine people hold dear, and this state will benefit from the diversification we are bringing to its seafood industry. It’s not a question of choosing one form of aquaculture over another. Instead, it’s about developing the industry as a whole in an environmentally sensitive and sustainable manner.

That is exactly what we are committed to doing.

Erik Heim is the founder and CEO of Nordic Aquafarms, which is planning to build a leading-edge land-based salmon farm in Belfast.

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