(The following letter was sent to IntraFish by Brian Vinci, director of The Conservation Fund’s Freshwater Institute in reaction to the IntraFish story: Land-based salmon farming in Maine: From dream to disaster )
There you go again, John, inciting your readers with another sensational story headline, Land-based salmon farming in Maine: From dream to disaster (July 8, 2022).
Let’s be clear, the land-based salmon farming dream is not a disaster in Maine, or anywhere else for that matter. We are in the midst of the development and growth of the land-based salmon farming industry. Growth by fits and starts is to be expected, not criticized.
In your piece you note that neither Whole Oceans nor Nordic Aquafarms have started construction after having taken four years in project development and permitting. You report that reassurances from Maine’s former Governor and Senator, Angus King, didn’t help these projects advance quicker either.
Let’s put these facilities into context based on IntraFish’s reporting.
Nordic Aquafarms is reported to be building a $500 million (€497 million) facility (33,000 mt/year) in Belfast, Maine. Whole Oceans is reported to be building a $400 million (€397 million) facility (20,000 mt/year) in Bucksport, Maine.
These two proposed farms, only 25 miles apart, together are estimated to cost $900 million (€895 million) to build. Add to that Tesla Gigafactory-like construction amount, the fact that land-based salmon farms are complex facilities with large-scale operations for just about everything - water treatment, feed handling, fish production, fish transfer, fish harvest, fish processing, waste treatment, and emergency backup power.
On top of that, add that no one has constructed a multi-thousand metric-ton-per -year land-based aquaculture facility in Maine before.
In this context, it is not at all surprising that project development and permitting has taken four years.
But you aren’t wrong when you report “a shovel has yet to touch the dirt” and there is “not a drop of fish yet.” I have no doubt there is some disappointment because of that.
Some of the disappointment is inescapable (and self-inflicted). The fundraising needed for these projects almost requires that the proponents make big announcements on the front end. The announcements generate excitement and reporting that put the project into the collective conversation. Being a part of that conversation is critical when seeking out investors and partners.
Unfortunately, this also starts a clock on the project. Design, site selection, developing community support, building the management team, negotiating supplier agreements, permitting, and other pre-construction activities still take years to complete.
All the while, people and partners may come and go, permit applications get contested, industry markets fluctuate, and new projects enter the conversation.
So, while I get that there may be disappointment because of this process, I don’t see disaster for land-based salmon farming in Maine, or anywhere.
I see the fits and starts inherent in business growth. As Forbes once published about building great businesses, “It’s not pretty, it’s often not even enjoyable, but you get there in the end.”