After more than six years of research and preparation, Rob Piasio is leading efforts to launch Whole Oceans, a state-of-the-art recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) that will raise Atlantic salmon on the site of the former Verso paper mill in Bucksport.

At full production, Whole Oceans will create hundreds of direct jobs and invest more than $250 million in Bucksport, according to an announcement Feb. 22. The company said it will produce 50,000 metric tons of Atlantic salmon per year, using entirely land-based technology, and it has pre-sold 100 percent of its production for 10 years.

Whole Oceans said it has purchased the Verso site. The company will break ground this year and begin construction in August.

RAS is an entirely land-based technology that optimizes growing conditions that help fish thrive. Water is continuously recycled through ultra purification systems, creating a clean, healthy growing environment that eliminates the use of antibiotics. The result is an earth friendly, superior grade salmon.

“The time for RAS has arrived and Whole Oceans will make Bucksport a global leader in sustainable Atlantic salmon production,” CEO Piasio said in a press release the company issued Feb. 22. “But this story is much bigger than just Whole Oceans. This story is also about the resiliency and determination of towns throughout Maine that make projects like this possible.

"Whole Oceans is entering a long-term partnership with the community of Bucksport, a responsibility we accept with the greatest care, and together we will strive to make Whole Oceans a source of pride every single day,” he said.

The arrival of Whole Oceans is welcome news to Gov. Paul R. LePage, whose administration and regulatory agencies have been monitoring the progress of Whole Oceans.

“'Maine is open for business’ has been my motto from day one,” the governor said. “Whole Oceans and its Maine-grown team will be an important addition to our state’s economy and transformative for Bucksport.”

According to the press release, Whole Oceans already has pre-sold 100 percent of its total production for the next 10 years.

Ben Willauer, Whole Oceans’ director of corporate development, praised the company's business model. "All aspects of this plan have been carefully considered, with an uncompromising dedication to ‘doing the right thing’ toward every decision, at every level," he said.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said of the announcement, "Whole Oceans’ investment is exciting news for Maine’s coastal economy and communities. “Rob Piasio and his team are bringing innovative, sustainable jobs to Bucksport, while providing the world with high-quality, wholesome salmon.”

Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, commented, “Aquaculture is a centerpiece of our state’s ocean economy. As a result of careful planning and effort, Whole Oceans is bringing a new opportunity and economic diversification to a former industrial site, creating renewed economic vitality and jobs. The innovative Whole Oceans aquaculture facility will reflect our ocean heritage in a new, environmentally sustainable manner.”

Piasio, a native of Yarmouth, said the company's mission, over time, "is to capture 10 percent of the U.S. Atlantic salmon market using only earth-friendly technologies."

"We will create hundreds of jobs and cement Maine’s leadership in the future of land-based aquaculture,” he said.

“To execute our plan, we have assembled a team of global leaders in land-based technology, including Billund Aquaculture based in Denmark and the Conservation Fund’s Freshwater Institute in West Virginia,” Piasio said. “The Whole Oceans team brings together the world’s longest and unmatched track record of success.”

According to the press release, when Piasio approached Bucksport tTown Manager Sue Lessard with his proposal to repurpose the abandoned mill site, her response was "enthusiastic and welcoming."

Lessard said, “We have been working diligently for the past two years to find businesses willing to invest significant capital and provide good jobs in the region. Along with Rich Rotella, Bucksport’s community and economic development officer, we have been speaking with the Whole Oceans team for some time and are excited they have chosen Bucksport for this amazing facility.

"This business will provide an environmentally friendly industrial component for Bucksport, while utilizing the assets of the former mill site," she said. "It will be an important partner in helping to move the community forward as we improve our economic vitality and diversity.”

Fast facts:

o Whole Oceans will produce 50,000 metric tons of Atlantic salmon per year using entirely land-based technology.

o Whole Oceans has pre-sold 100% of production for 10 years.

o At full capacity, Whole Oceans will create hundreds of direct jobs and invest over $250 million in Bucksport.

o Whole Oceans plans to begin construction in August 2018.

o Americans consume more than $2 billion of Atlantic salmon every year.

o Virtually all Atlantic salmon consumed in the U.S. is farmed.

o More than two million metric tons of Atlantic salmon were produced globally in 2017, generating more than $10 billion in sales.

o More than 95 percent percent of Atlantic salmon consumed in the U.S. is imported from foreign offshore cage farms.

About Whole Oceans

Whole Oceans is a Maine-based company that aims to become America’s premier producer of sustainably farm-raised Atlantic salmon in a state-of-the-art, environmentally responsible, recirculating aquaculture system. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2018. For more information visit wholeoceans.com.