A UK company that announced plans nearly three years ago to build a land-based salmon farm on the former Great Northern Paper Co. mill site in Millinocket has delayed its plans, saying other salmon farm operators have “poisoned the well” for technology.
Aquabanq, a Wyoming-based subsidiary of London-based Aquabanq Management and Holding, said in 2019 that it planned to open its Millinocket operation in 2021 or 2022, and harvest up to 10,000 tonnes of salmon one year by 2025.
At the time, he joined a handful of companies planning land-based aquaculture operations in Maine, including Belfast, Bucksport and Jonesport. Although the companies behind other proposed operations have made progress in obtaining permits, they have not yet started their proposed projects.
Salmon isn’t off the table for Aquabanq, but the company is now also looking to farm shrimp in Millinocket, CEO AJ Shapiro said. IntraFish, a trade fishing publication, reported for the first time on the Aquabanq delay in August.
“Maine remains on the map for 2023 or 2024,” Shapiro said. In the meantime, however, the company plans to shift to shrimp farming, citing “less bureaucracy” and faster harvest time compared to salmon.
A spokesperson for Aquabanq said the company’s shrimp farm would use “zero release” technology, meaning it would not release water or other liquids into the environment. As a result, the operation would not require a pollutant discharge permit.
Wild shrimp have been off limits to Maine anglers for seven years, with regulators in December extending the moratorium in the Gulf of Maine for another three years.
Sean DeWitt, president of the nonprofit Our Katahdin, which owns the Millinocket plant site, said he was unable to comment on the current nature of the group’s relationship with Aquabanq, citing a non-disclosure agreement that applied to dormant projects.
However, DeWitt said, his group is actively seeking aquaculture business tenants. The group has already signed a lease with a California company that plans to bring a $300 million data center to the property.
“Aquaculture remains a key priority for us because the site is so well suited for it, given affordable renewable energy, freshwater resources and abundant land,” DeWitt said.
Shapiro blamed “investor nervousness” toward salmon farming for the decision to postpone Aquabanq’s Millinocket plans.
“The Norwegian land salmon operators poisoned the well very effectively,” he said.
Atlantic Sapphire, a company founded in Norway, lost 1.1 million salmon on his Miami farm last March due to what the company called “design weaknesswith its supplier of recirculating aquaculture systems. The company already lost 200,000 salmon in the same establishment in July 2020.
Another Norwegian company, Nordic Aquafarms, is trying to start building one of the world’s largest land-based salmon farms in Belfast, but its proposal has been met with fierce opposition, its ability to place intake pipes and d evacuation in Penobscot Bay being challenged in court. .
Shapiro did not name any companies in his statement.
“Now everyone thinks Salmon RAS technology isn’t ready for prime time,” Shapiro said. “This is, of course, pure nonsense, but it is what it is and the market may need time to ‘cool down’.”
Maine Department of Environmental Protection Assistant Commissioner David Madore said Aquabanq has no permit applications on file with the state agency.