New bill proposes limits on certain large-scale aquaculture farms
A legislative committee approved a proposal Thursday aimed at preventing certain oversized aquaculture projects from ever receiving consideration from state regulators.
The bill, first introduced by state Sen. Nicole Grohoski, D-Ellsworth, and later amended by the marine resources committee, would prohibit the state from issuing leases for finfish aquaculture farms if the proposed stocking density exceeds 30 kilograms per cubic meter.
Grohoski said the bill is motivated by the proposal from American Aquafarms, which wanted to build a massive salmon farm in Frenchman Bay. The proposal sparked deep opposition from lobstermen, Acadia National Park and conservationists.
The Maine Department of Marine Resources rejected the American Aquafarms application for lack of completeness last year, and the processing facility purchased by the company was recently put up for auction.
"But what is to stop the next massive-scale project from being proposed?" Grohoski said. "The time to act is now, while there no applications under consideration."
DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher said Thursday that he never would have approved the American Aquafarms leases, even if the company had met the application requirements, because the proposed site was highly utilized by lobstermen.
Still, he said, the process of considering the American Aquafarms proposal took away valuable time from his department.
"In this case, our aquaculture division has been under tremendous strain. And the strain that an application like American Aquafarms put us under, took valid applications that should have been going through the process and were backburnered while staff had to focus on this application that at the end of the day wouldn't have been approved anyway," Keliher said.
Representatives from Cooke Aquaculture, which operates about two dozen farms around Maine, said they opposed the measure and argued that setting a stocking density limit could prohibit their ability to adopt new and evolving technology.
The bill faces further votes in the Maine House and Senate.