A Maine Fair Trade Lobster sign and the plant's iconic tall metal fisherman stand outside the shuttered and unoccupied seafood processing plant in the Gouldsboro village of Prospect Harbor on Nov. 30, 2021. Credit: Bill Trotter / BDN

American Aquafarms has purchased a former sardine cannery in Gouldsboro, indicating the company will likely continue to pursue a salmon farm in Frenchman Bay after being dealt a major permitting setback last month.

The sale of the Maine Fair Trade Lobster plant from East Coast Seafood to American Aquafarms closed Friday, according to East Coast Seafood CEO Bob Blais. American Aquafarms has said that it plans to use the 11-acre property in the village of Prospect Harbor for a hatchery and processing facility.

Thomas Brennan, American Aquafarms director of project development, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday. On Friday, he said knew the company was heading in the direction of a sale, but didn’t have a firm closing date.

“It’s going to happen,” Brennan said. “It’s just a question of when.”

Blais did not disclose the sale price of the real estate.

Friday’s sale comes less than two weeks after the Maine Department of Marine Resources terminated American Aquafarms’ application to grow salmon in net pens because the company did not have an approved source for salmon eggs.

To proceed, the Norwegian-backed aquaculture firm must resubmit a new application, likely adding years onto the permitting process. The Department of Marine Resources said Monday that it had neither heard from the company nor received a new application since killing the previous one.

The 100,000-square-foot facility in Gouldsboro was home to the nation’s last sardine cannery, which closed in 2010. East Coast Seafood acquired the plant through a foreclosure auction and used it to process lobster until last year, when they closed it to concentrate on another plant in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

Plans for the sale date back to 2020.

American Aquafarms is seeking to grow millions of pounds of salmon in floating net pens in Frenchman Bay near the waterfront facility. The proposal has been highly controversial and raised fears among fishermen, conversationalists and neighboring towns about possible devastation in the bay.

That opposition has spurred municipalities to look at what they can potentially do to reel in large projects. Gouldsboro last week extended a moratorium that halts the town from issuing any approvals for large-scale aquaculture development as the planning board explores potential tighter regulations on aquaculture projects.

This could impact the company’s plans for the plant, which likely will need a greenlight from the planning board and local building permits.

The Department of Marine Resources has warned the town that the state holds jurisdiction over water-based aquaculture leases, not local municipalities. A potential aquaculture licensing program that Gouldsboro is considering is preempted by state law, Marine Resources Deputy Commissioner Meredith Mendelson wrote to the town in a letter last month.

Mendelson said the department acknowledges that “there have been significant concerns about the scale of recent proposals in the area” and the department is open to a dialogue with the town about the application process.

“We believe our existing process is robust and provides adequate opportunity for municipal engagement, as well as public participation, to ensure appropriate protection of existing uses,” she wrote.