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Nordic Aquafarms exec says project on track despite opposition

Company continues to address environmental concerns of local residents.

Nordic Aquafarms remains on track with its goal to produce over 16,000 metric tons of salmon by 2020 at its land-based farm planned for the small town of Belfast, Maine, despite vocal opposition from some of the town's residents.

Erik Heim, the US CEO of Norway-based Nordic Aquafarms, the company behind the project, told IntraFish Wednesday his team is focused on getting information to residents mostly in response to environmental concerns.

Heim's engagement with Belfast residents has not been lost on deaf ears.

In what pundits are calling a referendum on the project, three Belfast city council candidates who opposed the land-based operation all lost their bids in Tuesday night's election. Voters instead chose three people who favored the project.

Heim said the company has made itself available on a regular basis to residents in response to concerns, and has set up a storefront downtown where people can come and get answers about the project.

He said Nordic Aquafarms remains on track to complete all of its permit applications for the project by the end of this year. State regulators are currently reviewing the company's water discharge application.

"We're comfortable but we need to have humility like everyone else and listen to people," he said. "We're working hard to get where we need to be."

Informing residents

When it's fully built out and producing 33,000 metric tons of salmon per year, the company projects to have two-thirds of its water come from nearby Penobscot Bay and the rest from groundwater.

It will use 1,200 cubic meters of water per hour, which Heim said is extremely efficient for RAS systems.

"Per pound of fish that's a lot lower than what is used at other facilities," he said. "My personal promise to anyone is we're not going to pump any water that's not sustainable."

The project recently received an endorsement from Don Perkins, CEO of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute. He stated in a letter in October the project "will have negligible impact when considered in the context of the tidal current and water volume characteristics of west Penobscot Bay and Belfast Bay,” adding,“Nordic has developed a competent strategy to collect baseline ecosystem information against which to monitor impact from operations as they grow and evolve."

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Heim said documenting the sustainability of using groundwater for the project is part of the company's permitting process, and that it has several options when it comes to sources.

"Right now, we're looking at a sustainable supply from our own property," he said, noting the city of Belfast has also indicated a willingness to sell water to the project.

Feed ingredients are another issue of concern to residents, Heim said. While the US project has not committed to a specific feed, he emphasized Nordic Aquafarms will be using a non-genetically-modified source for its salmon when the company decides on a feed supplier.

"We're going to keep reaching out and volunteering information," he said. "We're trying to heal some of the divides that come with an election."

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