BUCKSPORT, Maine — The company planning to build an Atlantic salmon farm at the former Verso Paper site announced on Tuesday plans to construct a fish processing facility across town that would employ 40 to 50 workers.
Speaking hours before the Bucksport Planning Board was due to hold its first public hearing on Whole Oceans’ proposed $180 million fish farm, CEO Jacob Bartlett said his company plans to process grown salmon for wholesale and retail sales at the Buckstown Industrial Park within four years.
Likely to cost $15 to $20 million, the processing plant and fish farm would make Bucksport the first town in the northeastern United States to grow and process Atlantic salmon entirely within land-based facilities. The two facilities would employ 140 to 150 workers, a number that could grow to 250 workers if additional phases of the farm on the Verso site are successful.
Whole Oceans is among a handful of U.S. and Canadian companies rushing to grow salmon through land-based systems. They see a market ripe for profitability: The world’s third largest market for seafood, the U.S., ranks 15th in aquaculture production, having imported 91 percent of its seafood in 2016.
Also, the U.S. is the largest market for Atlantic salmon worldwide, yet it imports 98 percent of its Atlantic salmon, according to the Freshwater Institute of West Virginia, which focuses on the sustainability of the domestic seafood supply.
The company considered partnering with another processor of salmon and locating the facility across the street from the mill site, Bartlett said.
“At the end of the day, we wanted to be in control of our own destiny as far as yields go and quality goes,” Bartlett said. “With the industry that’s already out there [at the industrial park] in the same sector, seafood processing, we can take advantage of the trucking routes and different vendors [already in use] in the area.”
“And you’ll start to see that the producers are starting to own their own processing,” he added.
If all goes well, the company would apply for a permit to build the processing facility on three or four acres at Buckstown by the middle or the end of 2021, Bartlett said.
By then, the company hopes to be almost a year into building the farm at the former Verso site. The Planning Board is due to review and might approve the application at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday,
The building permit application, submitted Aug. 16, details how the salmon farm would affect the site of the former Verso Paper mill, which closed in 2014. The company purchased the more than 100 acres from mill site owner AIM Development in May.
The company has separately applied to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection for a site location and development permit. It needs both permits before it can begin construction.
The company’s application for its Bucksport building permit calls for earth work on 22 acres of the site to start in November. That work, estimated to cost about $6.5 million, would include demolishing paper mill foundations, piping and storage tanks to make way for the company’s proposed Freshwater Building.
Construction on that 90,000-square-foot building would begin in April 2020, according to the permit application, and finish six months later in October 2020. The Freshwater Building is where Whole Oceans plans to hatch salmon eggs and raise the young fish to 10 months of age. The building will also house offices.
Besides construction of the building, this phase of the project would include the installation of the building’s underground utilities, and aquaculture and water treatment systems, along with improvements to its north and south roads. Including the building’s square footage, this phase will redevelop a total of 340,000 square feet of the mill site, according to the application.
Construction of a second unit, called the South Grow-out Building, is scheduled to take 12 months starting in October 2020. It will house large recirculating aquaculture systems and supporting infrastructure to raise the salmon to a size suitable for sale. Recirculating aquaculture systems flush seawater through large fish tanks. Warehouse space for fish feed will also be located in this 350,000-square-foot building.
If Whole Oceans’ operation in Bucksport is successful and expands, the company will build the North Grow-out Building, possibly in 2025 or 2026. At 350,000 square feet, it will mirror the South building, according to the application.
Personnel from Kuterra, a company on Canada’s west coast that Whole Oceans’ parent company is attempting to acquire, will help Whole Oceans with the installation and operation of aquaculture equipment on the Bucksport site, according to the permit application.
Kuterra runs one of the world’s first land-based salmon farms.