American Aquafarms plans to acquire the Main Fair Trade Lobster plant in Gouldsboro and to invest between $50 million and $100 million to redevelop the site for salmon processing, but the sale is contingent upon getting state approval to grow salmon at 30 pens in Frenchman Bay, according to a company official. The company projects harvesting 66 million pounds of salmon grown in the bay each year. Credit: Courtesy of Maine Fair Trade Lobster

A proposed salmon farm in Gouldsboro would draw $300 million or more in investment and create “hundreds” of jobs in the area, according to the Norwegian executive behind the proposal.

Last month, American Aquafarms reached an agreement with East Coast Seafood to buy the Maine Fair trade Lobster processing plant in the local village of Prospect Harbor, and build a hatchery and processing plant on the 11-acre site. The property was the location of the nation’s last sardine cannery, which closed in 2010 after a century in business.

American Aquafarms CEO Mikael Roenes declined on Friday to disclose the purchase price, but said that the deal is contingent on getting state approval to grow salmon in pens in Frenchman Bay. He said the company expects to invest between $50 million and $100 million to redevelop the plant property for processing salmon instead of lobster.

Roenes said he envisions a large-scale salmon production operation in Gouldsboro. The firm anticipates it would deploy 30 pens, each 150 feet wide, in lease sites in the bay. The pens, which he suggested would be built in Maine, would support a projected annual production of 30,000 metric tons, or about 66 million pounds of the fish.

The project would create “hundreds” of jobs, and the company would look to establish a job training program in the Gouldsboro area to help ensure that applicants are qualified, Roenes said. He declined to say more about the number and types of jobs American Aquafarms would create in the area.

“It’s a bit early to give an exact number,” he said.

Roenes said he has been “impressed” with advances in aquaculture technology that have prompted some companies to pursue land-based fish farms in Maine, three of which are currently proposed in Belfast, Bucksport and Jonesport. But he said American Aquafarms is focused instead on using “new generation” pens that address some of the challenges of farming fish at sea because he feels fish should live in the ocean.

“We are most familiar with the sea,” said Roenes, who in 2018 worked to establish Norcod, a Norwegian cod farming firm, before founding American Aquafarms last year. “Fish should grow in its natural habitat.”

The projected scale of the fish farm would make the operation similar to the size of Nordic Aquafarms’ proposed land-based operation in Belfast, where that company has said it plans to invest $500 million and produce roughly 73 million pounds of salmon each year.

Whole Oceans has projected it will invest $180 million and initially produce 11 million pounds of salmon annually in Bucksport, while Kingfish Maine has said it will invest $110 million in Jonesport and produce about 13 million pounds of yellowtail each year. Each of the three land-based firms has said it would create roughly 55 to 75 jobs in their initial phases of operation, but likely would expand within a few years of starting up.

American Aquafarms’ pens would have “cutting-edge” designs to address problems that have been persistent at other sea-based fish farming sites, according to information on the company’s website.

They would capture and remove fish waste so it doesn’t escape into the bay, and would draw water from varying depths in the bay to control temperature and to prevent parasitic sea lice from getting into the pens. Each pen would have two layers of barriers between the fish and the surrounding water, the outer layer of which would be “a closed fabric sack made from an ultra strong polymer membrane” that would prevent fish escapes and predators from getting in.

“It demands a significant, higher investment, but we believe it is the future” of ocean-based fish farming, Roenes said.

Roenes said company representatives have discussed the potential pen locations with local fishermen and sought their advice to make sure the salmon farm would be compatible with other marine activities.

He said he wants to be as open and upfront as possible with local fishermen and Gouldsboro residents about the company’s plans and goals to make sure they are well received.

Toward that goal, Roenes volunteered during an interview Friday morning that he has a white-collar criminal past in Norway, and that he has spent time incarcerated because of it.

Roenes did not want to go into details about his criminal history, but said he got into legal trouble more than a decade ago in Norway when he was working as a stockbroker and “made some promises I could not keep” to investors he had lined up in an attempt to acquire a Norwegian company.

He lost all his money, repaid his investors in full and eventually was convicted on charges he did not specify and spent two and a half years at a minimum-security prison, he said.

“I am very open about my past,” he said. “I accept full responsibility for my actions and have paid my debt to society.”

According to news reports published in Norway in 2008, when he was convicted, Roenes was found guilty of more than a dozen charges related to defrauding investors in various companies he had set up. He was ordered to repay 15 million kroner — roughly the equivalent at the time of $2.2 million — to his victims.

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....