A 2018 artist’s rendering of the Nordic Aquafarms facility proposed for construction beside the Little River in Belfast. Courtesy of Nordic Aquafarms

A Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruling over the ownership of some mud flats in Belfast has created a major hurdle for a $500 million fish farm planned there.

At the center of the dispute is Nordic Aquafarms’ plans to run piping underneath the property from the company’s proposed salmon facility, which would be built on 54 acres just west of Route 1. To connect with Penobscot Bay, the inflow and outflow water pipes need to cross intertidal land that Belfast officials say belongs to Janet and Richard Eckrote. Most city officials support Nordic’s proposal for the fish farm and, to help clear the way, the city bought the Eckrotes’ land in 2021.

But a local advocacy group that opposes the project, Upstream Watch, disputed the ownership. According to Upstream Watch, the intertidal land is actually owned by another couple, Jeffrey R. Mabee and Judith Grace, and there is a conservation easement that precludes any non-residential use of the property.

That dispute went to court, where a Waldo County Judge in October 2021 sided with the Eckrotes, the city and Nordic. But the Supreme Judicial Court on Feb. 16 disagreed, saying the land in fact belongs to Mabee and Grace, and that there is a valid conservation easement on the property. The ruling, however, did not include steps to enforce the conservation easement because that matter was not before the court.

After poring over decades of deeds, the court found the land was originally purchased by Harriet L. Hartley in 1935 and that she sold off three parts of it between 1946 and 1950. In one case, Hartley explicitly said in sale documents that the property being sold did not include any intertidal land, and the court ruled that the intertidal portion remained with the tract that is now owned by Mabee and Grace.

Nordic issued a statement saying it was studying the decision and contemplating its next move.


The company’s proposal for Belfast is one of many aquaculture projects that have recently been contemplated for sites along the state’s coast. Some communities have welcomed the investments and expected jobs, and plans are moving ahead.

Even an inland community has generated interest from aquaculture companies. Portland-based Katahdin Salmon and a nonprofit group, Our Katahdin, recently leased 45 acres of land at a former paper mill in Millinocket, over 100 miles from the coast, with plans to build a land-based farm. Like the Nordic project, the facility at the mill site – now known as One North – would cultivate Atlantic salmon in water that is continuously recirculated and sanitized.

However, such projects aren’t always welcome. Some communities have issued moratoriums to preemptively block the proposals. Opposition by other marine industries has also prompted state officials to review rules around leasing offshore sites for aquaculture, and to consider whether leasing criteria should change.


Amy Grant, president of Upstream Watch, said the Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling is a big step toward the group’s goal of ending the aquaculture project in Belfast and protecting both the bay and Little River.

While the ruling clarified the ownership of the intertidal lands, a lawsuit over Belfast’s plans to buy it, now from Mabee and Grace, using its eminent domain powers is still pending. Grant believes Maine law will require the state attorney general to intervene on Upstream Watch’s side because the AG is required to defend conservation easements.


“I am never going to say it’s over until it’s over,” Grant said, but added that Nordic is “on the ropes and we’re going in for the kill.”

The suit over the city’s effort to take the land by eminent domain has been on hold while the ownership dispute went to the Supreme Judicial Court. City officials said they continue to support Nordic’s plans for Belfast and hope to prevail in the eminent domain lawsuit.

“I fully expect to be welcoming Nordic to Belfast as a new business,” Mayor Eric Sanders said in a statement.

In an interview, Sanders conceded that Upstream Watch won this round, but said city officials “feel confident” about their ultimate ability to acquire the land and allow Nordic to run its pipes, buried deep in the intertidal land, across it.

Sanders framed the attempt to buy the intertidal land as in keeping with the conservation easement. He said the city’s goal is to use the property to connect some trails in town to a nearby beach, where a park is planned.

“We’d like the ability to permanently preserve that,” he said.

“It appears Nordic lost this decision and Upstream Watch won,” Sanders said. But he said most city officials are still supportive of the company and its plans and are hopeful the next case will be resolved in their favor.

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