The parent company behind Whole Oceans, which plans to start a land-based salmon farm in Bucksport, is being sued by a consultant that was supposed to help with the project. Credit: Ethan Genter / BDN

As construction for a land-based salmon farm in Bucksport waits to get underway, the parent company behind the project is engaged in a legal battle with a consultant that it fired.

Whole Oceans plans to grow Atlantic salmon in a recirculating aquaculture system facility at the site of a former paper mill, though the project has been delayed.

Meanwhile, it’s parent company, Emergent Holdings, is being sued by GNP Consulting, an Indiana-based firm that Emergent brought on to aid with aquaculture projects and later terminated. The firing came, in part, because the firm allegedly underestimated the cost of the planned farm by $150 million.

In 2019, Nicholas and Gabriel Pranger, who own the consulting firm, sold their aquaculture engineering firm PR Aqua to Emergent Holdings. The company paid $3 million and promised another $3.25 million to be paid in installments, according to Emergent.

As part of the deal, the Prangers consulting firm would continue to manage PR Aqua for five years and help with Whole Oceans. However, the relationship grew strained and the consulting contract was terminated in June 2021, according to court documents.

In July 2021, the Prangers filed a lawsuit against Emergent in Indiana federal court, saying that Emergent still owed them more than $2.4 million under the installment agreement. The Prangers argued that they should be paid that money and be allowed to continue operating PR Aqua.

In a counterclaim, Emergent said the contract and payments were ceased partially because Nicholas Pranger either failed or lacked the competence necessary to manage projects and had underestimated the cost of the Whole Oceans project by $150 million.

He originally presented a $250 million business plan for the project in Bucksport, but it now stands to cost nearly $400 million “as a result of Nick’s poor planning and failure to take into consideration numerous pieces of equipment and other materials necessary for the project,” according to Emergent’s claim.

His communication was so poor that one contractor thought it was supposed to supply plans for a fish hospital instead of a fish barn, Emergent alleged.

The Prangers’ attorneys did not respond to a request for comment, though their lawsuit said the alleged contract violations were false. The lead attorney for Emergent declined to talk about the case.

Whole Oceans owns about 100 acres at the former Verso paper mill site in Bucksport and is currently working on designs for the facility. Spokesperson Angie Helton said the company has seen delays due to the pandemic, but planned to make a “positive” announcement in the first quarter of 2022.