Lawrence Reichard’s recent column (This Stinks) contains so much misinformation, I am compelled to set the record straight.

First, however, I want to thank to the Belfast city leadership and the many local citizens who have welcomed our project and provided such helpful input as we have moved through the due diligence phase and are now getting ready for permitting.

We realize that there are people like Mr. Reichard who will never support our project or other development projects in the Belfast area. Nevertheless, we will continue to maintain an open and respectful dialogue with the community and will be transparent in all of our activities.

That comes naturally to us. Norway, where our company was founded, is a democratic country where citizens rely on their institutions to protect them and to ensure that businesses comply with sustainability principles and strict regulations. Norway has a substantial and well-established seafood industry, and most people there and around the world have welcomed land-based facilities as a positive development for the environment and the protection of wild salmon populations. This includes the Atlantic Salmon Federation (Maine), Monterey Aquarium Seafood Watch and other environmental organizations in the U.S.

Businesses like ours in Norway work closely with both citizens and institutions to achieve sustainable economic development, and we see the same opportunity in Maine.

Turning to some of Mr. Reichard's allegations, it is true that fish, like other animals, produce feces. However, the benefit of land-based seafood farms is that we filter this out and collect it. In the case of the Nordic Aquafarms facilities, 99 percent of the waste is filtered out before water is discharged far off the coast. Feces and fine fish feed particles are collected as a sludge, which is rich in nutrients and thus has multiple re-use applications.

This is exactly what land-based facilities and Nordic Aquafarms pursue. Fertilizer ingredients, biogas production, and protein production opportunities are just some of the uses for these valuable by-products.

Nordic Aquafarms, along with local partners, is currently assessing what type of re-use makes the most sense in Maine, and we will document this in our application to the Maine DEP. In any case, our discharges will be negligible, within the limits of other existing commercial permits, and will have no adverse impact on area waters.

As for water withdrawals, local experts have spent the last few months carefully assessing the groundwater capacity of the site. Their modelling has shown that we can achieve withdrawal from wells at 1,200 gallons per minute in a sustainable manner, without any negative impact on the aquifer or nearby wells. We would not be moving forward if we didn’t have those scientifically based assurances. It would make no sense for us to make this investment if our main groundwater source was not sustainable over the long term.

Our site is at the end of a major watershed, similar to the narrow end of a funnel. We are extracting the water just before it goes into the sea, using it to grow fish and then returning it to the sea — exactly where it was headed in the first place. Any comparison to selling water in bottles makes no sense.

The issue of protein efficiency can be viewed from a number of angles. If you look at the feed amounts needed for raising cattle and other livestock, none of them can come even close to the protein efficiency of farmed fish — one pound of feed for one pound of fish.

Moreover, for other livestock, a massive amount of valuable land and water is used to produce these animals, with a much lower total edible yield than fish. Fish remains the healthiest choice to put on the dinner table, as well.

In our case, no fish are taken from U.S. water to produce fish meal; Chile is the main supplier of fish meal internationally. (In local waters, fish, such as herring and menhaden — or pogies — are harvested for use as lobster bait.) In addition, fish feed also contains a range of plant proteins and other natural ingredients, so it is incorrect to equate the amount of fish meal used with the amount of fish produced.

That being said, the industry is working with a range of fish meal alternatives to enable further sustainable growth for the aquaculture sector on a global basis. Nordic Aquafarms supports this, and we will be working closely with our own food supplier over the next year to develop the most sustainable, non-GMO food mix for our fish.

Some good information about food conversion ratios can be found here:

And while it is true that wild fish are a very efficient protein source, a challenge is that the U.S. does not have anything close to a sustainable domestic supply of fish. Today, the U.S. imports the vast majority of its seafood. The U.S. and many other countries in the world can never become self-sufficient on wild-caught fish, particularly with the many ecological challenges we are seeing in oceans worldwide, such as pollution and climate change effects.

To meet current demand, much of the fresh fish consumed is air-freighted to the U.S. at a significant cost and with considerable carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming. To achieve growth in domestic supply of fresh local fish in a sustainable, environmentally responsible manner, fish farming is a necessity and we will see much more of it in the coming years.

As for fish escape, this is virtually impossible at a land-based farm such as we are proposing for Belfast, where production is located a minimum of 250 feet from any watershed. In fact, there are no known escape episodes from land-based grow-out facilities like ours. Six to seven different screens and barriers in multiple tanks would all have to fail at the same time for any fish to escape, and that just isn’t going to happen with today's designs. The Maine DEP will also be evaluating our designs with this issue in mind.

Regarding reflective facades, this is an offer we have made to the city of Belfast. These facades have been used successfully in the Nordics to blend in with the landscape, and measures are taken to protect birds when this is a concern. These special facades come at an extra cost, however, so if Belfast citizens want more traditional facades, we are happy to oblige since that will be a cost-savings for us.

Finally, as we have already stated many times, we understand and appreciate the local importance of the Little River trails, the old brick building, and the reservoir and dam. We will not do anything to diminish the character of these landmarks, and in fact will enhance their use and benefit to the city and for visitors to Belfast.

When we announced our project last winter, we expected to hear a variety of questions and concerns. Over the past few months we have worked hard to address them and to engage in a productive and respectful dialogue with the community. We will continue to do that, and the applications that we will soon be filing with the local planning board and state and federal agencies will support everything we have been saying with facts and hard data.

The vocal minority of people that are so critical of our plan to bring a sustainable new seafood source to Maine should be held to the same standard.

Erik Heim is chief executive officer of Nordic Aquafarms.

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