Kingfish Zeeland's land-based yellowtail farm in the Netherlands, pictured above, produces 600 tons of fish a year. The company plans to build a larger, $110 million land-based yellowtail fish farm in Jonesport. Credit: Courtesy of Kingfish Zeeland

A Dutch aquaculture firm that plans to build a $110 million land-based fish farm in Jonesport has reached an agreement with the University of Maine to lease space at the school’s aquaculture incubator to breed and hatch fish that the company then will grow to market size.

Kingfish Zeeland has an option to acquire a 94-acre oceanfront parcel of land overlooking Chandler Bay on Route 187, a few miles east of Jonesport’s main village. If it gets the necessary regulatory approvals, it plans to build a facility on site within the next couple of years that would produce around 13 million pounds of yellowtail fish a year for the North American seafood market, with possible expansion sometime later.

The firm, which already has a land-based yellowtail farm in the Netherlands, has signed a lease with UMaine’s Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research in Franklin, roughly 50 miles away from the planned development site, to develop the broodstock — mature members of a species used for breeding — for the fish farm. The deal with UMaine also allows Kingfish to use an existing broodstock of the species, Seriola lalandi, that UMaine owns to help develop its own breeding population.

Megan Sorby, an operations manager for the Dutch firm, said Thursday that Kingfish also plans to bring some of its own fish from the Netherlands to supplement development of its Maine broodstock.

Kingfish plans to develop its own hatchery in Jonesport as part of the planned $110 million capital investment, Sorby said, but it intends to maintain its relationship with UMaine after its broodstock has been established.

“UMaine has a fantastic reputation for research and forward thinking in aquaculture development,” Sorby said. “We hope this lays the groundwork for an ongoing relationship with UMaine.”

When Kingfish Zeeland began operations in 2015, Sorby said, it partnered in a broodstock selection program with Wageningen University in the Netherlands. The partnership was important to the early success of the Netherlands operation, she said.

Seriola lalandi often is identified as hamachi on sushi menus and has proven to be one of the most viable species, both commercially and biologically, for land-based aquaculture operations.

The proposed fish farm in Jonesport is one of three large, land-based aquaculture operations planned for development on the Maine coast. Nordic Aquafarms has plans to build a $500 million salmon farm in Belfast, while Whole Oceans is looking to develop a $180 million salmon farm at the former Verso Paper mill site in Bucksport.

Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....