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Business and Economy

Closed-Pen Salmon Farms Proposed For Frenchman Bay

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American Aquafarms
An illustration showing the proposed location and visual impact of two closed-pen salmon farms in Frenchman Bay.

A Norwegian investor this month filed applications to establish and operate two 60-acre salmon farms in Frenchman Bay — a proposal that is already drawing fire from local seafood harvesters and landowners.

Mikael Roenes says his American Aquafarms company would operate from a former sardine cannery in Gouldsboro, across the bay from Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. The goal would be to grow as much as 66 million pounds of salmon annually in so-called “closed pens” in the middle of the bay.

Company spokesman David Farmer says the technology eliminates salmon escapes, prevents sea lice infestations and better controls waste discharges than traditional open-pen fish farms.

“Closed-pen technology is really the cutting edge of ocean-based aquaculture for the future. It is the direction that we’re starting to see Norway move to, and growing interest around the world in this technology,” he says.

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Credit American Aquafarms
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American Aquafarms
An illustration of a closed salmon pen.

The company says it would invest as much as $100 million in the project and create hundreds of jobs. But local opposition is developing among members of the Friends of Frenchman Bay nonprofit group, local lobstermen and smaller-scale aquaculture farmers.

“It’s the same water that my crop is in that they would be putting their intensive animal farm in,” says Sarah Redmond, who runs Springtide Seaweed, the nation’s first organically certified kelp farm.

Redmond says Maine’s rising number of small-scale aquaculture farms holds promise for substantial economic growth that doesn’t overextend ocean ecosystems. Industrial-scale farms, she says, threaten that future.

“We have an incredible place here, and it’s a national treasure. And it’s not an appropriate place to site industrial fish farms, especially as a speculative effort for people from other countries,” she says.

Would-be developer Roenes was convicted of participating in an investment fraud worth millions of euros when he was a Norway stockbroker in 2008. According to Norwegian broadcaster NRK he was sentenced to four years in jail. Farmer says Roenes ultimately served two and a half years in a low-security facility.

Farmer says Roenes admits past mistakes, but has rebuilt his career and reputation. He says Roenes is confident the project will pass muster with Maine's departments of Marine Resources and Environmental Protection.