An artist's rendition show what a land-based salmon farm in Bucksport might look like. Credit: Courtesy of Whole Oceans

Whole Oceans, which plans to develop a land-based salmon farm on 90 acres of riverfront property in Bucksport formerly owned by Verso Paper, is acquiring a 10-acre site where the former paper mill stood.

With the additional property, Whole Oceans intends to amend the planned layout of the salmon farm and will have to get amendments approved by the town of Bucksport and the state Department of Environmental Protection before construction can begin. The company has not finished revising its $180 million development plan to include the additional parcel, which company and town officials refer to as Lot 3.

“This gives us more than 10 acres where our saltwater intake will be and includes deep water access and a wharf with a warehouse,” Jacob Bartlett, CEO of Whole Oceans, said in a statement. The parcel being acquired abuts the Penobscot River at the southern tip of the former mill property.

Bartlett added that the site “is a flat area that can support tanks and other aquaculture infrastructure with minimal grading,” and, because it includes a riverfront wharf and warehouse, allows for construction materials to be delivered by water.

Bartlett declined to disclose the sale price of the 10.8-acre parcel. It is being sold to Whole Oceans by Bucksport Mill LLC, a subsidiary of American Iron and Metal. It bought the mill property in 2015 from Verso, which closed the mill in 2014. The town’s assessed value of the property is $1.53 million.

Whole Oceans officials said they hope to begin construction on the salmon farm “in the coming months.” They acknowledged that planning and development of the site has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic,” but did not go into further detail about those impacts. Bartlett said construction is expected to take 18 to 24 months once under way and pandemic is not expected to lengthen construction time.

With the acquisition, Whole Oceans owns 114 acres of land in Bucksport — 12 acres on the east side of Route 15, where a Methodist church is operating in a building formerly owned by Verso, and the remainder along the river on the west side of the road.

Whole Oceans is one of multiple aquaculture firms looking to develop production sites along the coast of eastern Maine to cultivate fish for the East Coast seafood market. The firms are in various stages of getting permits, approvals and financing, but none has started construction.

Nordic Aquafarms plans to develop a $500 millon land-based salmon farm in Belfast, while Kingfish Maine is pursuing plans to build a $110 million land-based yellowtail farm in Jonesport. As part of what would be an initial investment of between $50 million and $100 million, Norway-based American Aquafarms has agreed to buy the Maine Fair Trade Lobster processing plant in Gouldsboro and hopes to renovate it for processing salmon that it would grow in pens in Frenchman Bay.

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....