Keith Decker has been named as the new chief executive officer of American Aquafarms, the company that is proposing a controversial fish farm in Frenchman Bay. Credit: Courtesy of American Aquafarms

American Aquafarms, the firm that wants to create a controversial salmon farm in Frenchman Bay, has named a new chief executive officer.

Keith Decker, who previously served as the CEO of Blue Harvest Fisheries, will be taking over the position. The firm’s previous CEO, Mikael Roenes, announced on Oct. 15 that he would step down from the position in a YouTube video.

Blue Harvest fisheries is an East Coast-based company that harvests, processes and distributes seafood.

Decker also served as CEO of High Liner Foods, an American seafood distributor.

Roenes, who is from Norway, said in the video that he felt it was time to step away from the company and make room for an American CEO, as well as noting that it had always been part of his plan to relinquish his role as the head of American Aquafarms.

Roenes has a criminal record in his home country, and was found guilty in the late 2000s of more than a dozen charges related to defrauding investors in various companies he had set up. He did not mention whether his criminal record was a contributing factor to his decision to step away from overseeing the company.

Roenes did say that he intends to continue to work with American Aquafarms as it seeks state approval to lease two 60-acre sites in Frenchman Bay.

The company will use 15 floating pens, each of them 150 feet wide, at each site. The pens would have “cutting-edge” designs to contain fish waste, control water temperature and prevent both fish escapes and infiltration by predators and sea lice, company officials have said.

Roenes projected that the operation would produce 30,000 metric tons, or about 66 million pounds, of fish each year. Fish grown at the site would be processed at a fish plant in Gouldsboro which for decades functioned as a sardine cannery and, in the past decade, as a lobster processing site. American Aquafarms has an agreement to acquire the plant from Maine Fair Trade Lobster, but has not yet closed on the purchase, according to company spokesperson Mary Casale.

Several area groups have criticized the proposal, saying the operation would jeopardize water quality in the bay, create gear conflicts with local fishermen and that the industrial scale is inappropriate for the site, which abuts Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. Roenes’ criminal history — for which he was ordered to serve two and a half years at a minimum security prison and to repay roughly $2.2 million to former investors — has been one of the concerns cited by opposition groups.

The project is one of four major aquaculture projects planned along Maine’s coast, and would be the only one of those four that would grow fish at sea.

Nordic Aquafarms and Whole Oceans have proposals to grow salmon at land-based farms in Belfast and Bucksport, respectively, while Kingfish Maine is hoping to grow yellowtail on 94 acres of land in Jonesport.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection, which will determine whether to issue American Aquafarms waste discharge permits for the two proposed aquaculture lease sites In Frenchman Bay, has scheduled a public online Zoom meeting to gather feedback on the proposal for 5 p.m. on Thursday.

BDN reporter Bill Trotter contributed to this report.

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Leela Stockley

Leela Stockley is an alumna of the University of Maine. She was raised in northern Maine, and loves her cat Wesley, her puppy Percy and staying active in the Maine outdoors.