Wire lobster traps sit stacked on a pier in Beals, Maine, as vehicles cross the Beals Island Bridge between Beals and Jonesport on Nov. 30, 2018. Linked by the bridge, which is being replaced with a new $10.5 million span, the lobster industry and a shared high school, residents of the two towns hope their rural fishing community will benefit from a proposed $110 million land-based aquaculture fish farm in Jonesport. Credit: Bill Trotter / BDN

A proposal to enact an aquaculture moratorium in the town of Jonesport, where a firm based in the Netherlands hopes to construct a $110 million land-based fish farm, was rejected Wednesday by local voters.

The moratorium was defeated by a 91-201 vote.

The proposal from Kingfish Maine to build the fish farm on a 94-acre shorefront lot on Dun Garvan Road has been in development for three years, but opponents have stepped up their criticism in the past year. 

Some opponents have said nitrogen discharge from the fish farm could affect the water quality of Chandler Bay, and that smaller creatures in the bay could get sucked in and killed by the plant’s filtration and sterilization system. Kingfish officials have said that water discharged into the bay will be cleaner than water that gets sucked in, and that nitrogen discharge won’t be high enough to affect oxygen levels in the bay.

At a public information meeting in January about the proposal, a majority of people present voiced support for the project.

Ohad Maiman, CEO of Kingfish, said Thursday that he is happy that the moratorium was rejected.

“We are grateful for the overwhelming local support at the town vote,” Maiman said. “When we chose the Jonesport site, we spent significant time getting to know the community and making certain we were welcome. This vote confirms that we have made the right choice.”

The company hopes to grow roughly 13 million pounds of yellowtail each year in Jonesport. Yellowtail, or seriola lalandi, is sometimes identified as hamachi on sushi menus and has proven to be one of the most viable species, both commercially and biologically, for land-based aquaculture operations.

Kingfish officials have said they initially would employ 70 people, 60 of whom would not need prior specialized experience to work at the plant, and then would increase their local workforce as the farm’s output increases over time.

The town’s planning board is expected to meet at 7 p.m., Tuesday Aug. 2, at the local high school, to hold a public hearing on Kingfish’s application for a municipal building permit. The company already has been granted state permits for the project from Maine Department of Environmental Protection and from the Bureau of Parks and Lands.

Opposition in Jonesport to Kingfish’s plans have been fueled in part by a former proposal from a Maine aerospace company to launch small rockets into orbit from a local island, though neither the operation of the fish farm nor the rocket launch site would have had any impact on each other. Some local lobstermen raised concerns that each project would have a negative impact on lobster in the bay — something that both the aquaculture firm and the aerospace company denied.

Brunswick-based bluShift Aerospace, frustrated by the opposition’s claims, later dropped its plans for Jonesport but has since announced plans to base its launch operations in Steuben, after town officials and residents there expressed support for the firm’s plans.

Even though bluShift dropped its proposal to launch rockets in Jonesport, the town pushed ahead to draft an ordinance that essentially bans commercial rocket launches in the town. That ordinance also was voted on Wednesday at the special town meeting, and was approved by a 125-61 vote.

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....