American Aquafarms CEO Mikael Roenes. Credit: Courtesy of American Aquafarms

The founder of a company that wants to farm salmon in Frenchman Bay is again in legal hot water as a Norwegian court ordered that his assets be seized.

Mikael Roenes, who founded and remains a financial partner in American Aquafarms, is being sued by investors in Blue Future, which is a major financial backer of American Aquafarms, according to a report in the Norwegian newspaper Dagens Næringsliv

A court in southern Norway ruled in August and again last month that Roenes has to surrender 20 million Norwegian kroner — or about $1.9 million —  as two billionaire investors attempt to recover their loans to Blue Future. Among Roenes’ identified assets are a million dollar apartment in the Norwegian capital of Oslo, which creditors have seized, and a “lavish” penthouse apartment at a Norwegian ski resort, the Norwegian newspaper reported.

Roenes previously was convicted in Norway for defrauding investors in 2008. He was found guilty of more than a dozen charges related to defrauding investors in various companies he had set up and was ordered to repay roughly $2.2 million to his victims. He also spent two and a half years behind bars, according to Norwegian media reports.

Roenes served as CEO of American Aquafarms from 2019 until 2021, when he relinquished the post. Keith Decker was named as the firm’s new CEO less than two weeks later. 

American Aquafarms’ lease permit application to grow salmon in 30 large closed pens in a 120-acre site in Frenchman Bay was dismissed by state officials in April, after the company failed to identify a qualified provider of salmon eggs that it would use to supply its farm. The company has said it plans to re-submit the application at some point.

Thomas Brennan, American Aquafarm’s project manager in Maine, on Wednesday  characterized the lawsuit in Norway as a “dispute among disgruntled investors.”

He said he had heard only a few details about the lawsuit.

“My understanding is that it doesn’t affect our intent in Maine,” he said.

IntraFish, a seafood industry publication that reposted the Norwegian report on the latest lawsuit, said that one of the investors now suing Roenes, Ada Kjeseth, loaned him $476,000 as part of $7 million he was trying to raise for Blue Future. 

“I am so incredibly disappointed that a man who has done what he did and has paid for it is doing the same thing again,” Kjeseth told the Norwegian newspaper, according to IntraFish. “It is difficult to understand.”

Blue Future is described on the American Aquafarms website as “a Norway-based group of aquaculture investors” who invested in NORCOD, a Norway-based cod growing and harvesting company previously founded by Roenes. Blue Future also has helped to fund Purecod, another aquaculture company that Roenes created and still runs. 

Henry Sharpe, who leads a coalition of Hancock County groups opposed to American Aquafarms’ project, said Wednesday that they sympathize with the investors who have sued Roenes. Multiple groups, towns, and property owners around Frenchman Bay have said any large-scale aquaculture operation on the bay would harm the environment and hurt the quality of life for people who enjoy or make a living on the bay.

“We also have no faith in anything Mikael Roenes and American Aquafarms does or says,” said Sharpe, president of Frenchman Bay United. 

He added that both Gov. Janet Mills and former Gov. Paul LePage oppose the company’s stated goals for Frenchman Bay.

“The overwhelming opposition should send a loud and clear message that this project is not wanted in Maine and is highly unlikely to move forward,” Sharpe said.

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Bill Trotter

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....