Lawmakers in Maine -- home to aquaculture producer Cooke and land-based yellowtail farmer Kingfish --are continuing to call for stricter regulations when it comes to current and future aquaculture leases.
The latest set of proposals come from Maine Democratic Sen. Nicole Grohoski, who has two bills in the works aimed at regulating the industry.
The first proposal from Grohoski would ask the state's Commissioner of Marine Resources to not issue a lease for marine finfish aquaculture if the stocking density exceeds 22 kilograms per cubic meter or if the biomass exceeds 780 metric tons. The measure would also apply to current leases under the current version of the bill.
That bill is scheduled to have a public hearing on Thursday.
"Arbitrarily changing stocking limits through legislation may simply restrict a producer’s ability to introduce new technologies and innovative equipment which otherwise enables aquaculture farms to operate even more sustainably," Joel Richardson, Cooke's vice president of public relations, told IntraFish.
If passed, he added, any existing or future fish farming companies in Maine would be impacted by the legislation.
While Richardson did not comment on the stocking densities at Cooke's salmon aquaculture facilities in Maine, the state's Department of Marine Resources lists the company as having 24 licenses active aquaculture leases in the state.
"The salmon farms of today have improved significantly from the farms of decades ago," Richardson said. "In our experience, some legislative changes can be counterproductive and do not typically keep up with the rapid pace of technological advancement in the aquaculture sector.
"One of the key reasons why Maine has been successful in aquaculture growth is that the state, academia, industry and communities work collaboratively to establish the associated regulatory policy and legislation."
The lawmaker's other active bill would direct the state's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to review state laws and rules regulating the licensing of waste discharges from proposed finfish aquaculture facilities, including any waste discharge modeling requirements or standards.
“On-water finfish farming is not what it was decades ago," the senator said of the legislation in a statement, adding she was working to protect both the state's coast and the livelihoods of its lobstermen.
"Nor are our coastal marine environments as healthy as they once were. This bill will move Maine in the right direction as we ensure our regulations are up to date with modern practices, so we can protect the health of our cold, clean waters.”
That bill received a divided committee report, with nine members in favor and four against, reported the local news site Mount Deseret Islander. A majority vote is needed to move the bill out of committee for House and Senate review, the news site said.
The latest of many
This is not the first time this year that strict measures have been proposed by Maine legislators for aquaculture. In March, a measure brought forward by a different Maine senator sought to place strict new regulations on land-based aquaculture facilities in the state.
While that proposal died in committee following significant industry outcry, the state's aquaculture industry remains on edge, with local opposition from residents and lawmakers having the ability to significantly hinder projects.
"As with many bills you see proposed, while it may not directly impact all aquaculture producers, they can set a precedent for unreasonable regulations in future," Megan Sorby, an operations manager for Maine's land-based yellowtail producer The Kingfish Company, told IntraFish of legislation such as Sen. Grohoski's.
She pointed to the senator's proposal to limit stocking densities as being in conflict with the current regulatory decisions, which are "driven by the unique environmental conditions at each farm site and the sites’ ability to process the nutrients coming out of the farm."
"Each site is different and Maine’s environmental monitoring regime is designed to help the farmer determine the appropriate biomass that will not exceed the sites carrying capacity and harm the environment," she said.
"This is trying to impose a 'one size fits all' approach, which would eliminate the existing robust analysis that is currently part of the regulatory framework."