The Atlantic Salmon Federation is dedicated to the health of Maine’s rivers, estuaries, and coastal environments. We know Mainers treasure healthy, wild places, but as a state we also need prosperity and good jobs for people and families. ASF believes there are two developments on the horizon that can protect our waters and native fish while making Maine a leader in sustainable aquaculture.

Recently, Whole Oceans in Bucksport and Nordic Aquafarms in Belfast announced plans to build land-based salmon farms, part of an emerging trend that’s attracting global investment. The race is on to bring larger volumes of environmentally friendly, USA-grown salmon to market.

ASF’s support for these proposed salmon farms may come as a surprise. Two decades ago we were on the front page of Maine’s newspapers expressing our concern that wild salmon stocks and the health of our coastal bays were being threatened by a sea cage industry plagued by large escapes, increased densities of sea lice, and diseases such as Infectious Salmon Anemia.

While significant regulatory and industry improvements in Maine prevent the large farm escapes of the past, in Canada we are engaged in legal, regulatory, and public advocacy battles with industry and governments where new sea cage farms are being sited with little regard to wild species or the environment. At the same time, ASF has been supporting the development of alternatives to growing salmon in sea cages next to wild salmon rivers in Maine and Canada.

In 2011, we began a partnership with the Conservation Fund’s (CF) Freshwater Institute in West Virginia to assess the biological, technological and economic requirements of commercial scale, land-based salmon aquaculture. These trials have involved growing tens of thousands of salmon in large tanks under one roof.

On land, growers control water temperature, light and feeding, while keeping fish separate from marine parasites and pathogens. Our trials at the Freshwater Institute have shown that land-based salmon can be grown without vaccines, antibiotics and pesticides. The result is that land-based salmon farming has no impact on wild salmon or other fish populations, marine mammals, crustaceans or seabirds. Our conclusion is that land-based salmon farming is an innovative, sustainable alternative to sea-cage aquaculture that should thrive in Maine.

There have been concerns raised about the amount and location of waste discharge by the farms.

Again, the advantage of land-based aquaculture is the ability to eliminate pathogens and control discharge, unlike the sea cages where all waste flows directly into the marine environment. All fresh and saltwater used is bio-filtered and screened to eliminate all potential pathogens. Our studies and the experience of the industry is that 99 percent of solids and phosphorous are removed, as well as 60 percent of the nitrogen, which compares very favorably to other industries. In addition to Maine’s strict permitting processes for discharge, these companies have every incentive to maintain a healthy coastal environment, as they are drawing in the same saltwater to grow the fish.

Land-based salmon farms require large initial investments. Nordic Aquafarms and Whole Oceans are proposing to spend almost a combined half-billion dollars to set up their projects. Economic analysis carried out by the Freshwater Institute indicates this activity will bring good-paying jobs and generate significant spin-offs for local business.

At the same time, it’s important these projects work for the communities where they operate. We believe they will. The companies have been listening to local concerns and making every attempt to earn trust and approval. ASF is confident these companies will be models of environmentally sustainable aquaculture and make Maine a leader in this industry.

Andrew Goode is vice president for U.S. Programs, Atlantic Salmon Federation. The Atlantic Salmon Federation was formed in 1948 to conserve, protect, and restore wild Atlantic salmon and the environment they depend on.

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