The salmon industry recently took a victory lap in Intrafish, an industry publication, with a headline, “Proposed measure to place strict regulations on Maine land-based farming sector dealt a deadly blow.”

The headline needs unpacking. Calling this aquaculture sector “farming” hides the reality of what is being proposed. Billions of gallons of effluent a day into Maine’s estuaries is not “farming.”

The EPA defines 100,000 pounds or more of seafood a year as Concentrated Aquatic Animal Production. Five land-based mega-CAAPs are proposed in Belfast, Bucksport, Millinocket, Frenchman’s Bay and Jonesport. If built as proposed, they would come to 211,000,000 pounds a year, with the help of relatively pristine and recovering public waters. This transfer of commons to corporations orchestrated by a small monied interest is, simply put, elite capture.

I helped draft two white papers on industrial aquaculture; one focused on carbon, the other on nitrogen, as these natural elements become pollution when unregulated. Carbon is linked to climate change while nitrogen is linked to shellfish closures, red tide and dead zones.

The carbon calculations estimate these five facilities alone would add roughly 400,000 cars to Maine’s roads, or 15 percent of Maine’s 2030 greenhouse gas target. Most would require a dedicated power corridor or generators sufficient to power five Belfast-sized towns. Meanwhile, Gov. Mills committed Maine to carbon neutrality by 2045 at the United Nations.

Nitrogen calculations from permit documents reveal a cumulative release equivalent to 19 Portland sewers – equal to nitrogen pollution from about 1.2 million people, nearly Maine’s entire population. Meanwhile, the 50-year-old Clean Water Act required a “discharge elimination” license and the use of “best practicable” technology, which today is zero-discharge, fully recirculating aquaculture systems, that are up and running.


L.D. 586 offered the industry saved costs of intake and discharge pipelines, power corridors, site stabilization, forest liquidation, import of small pelagic fish, all by siting facilities in industrial sites near markets and transportation hubs and by using the best practicable solutions as required by law.

By putting their best foot forward, this new sector could avoid appeals, legal challenges, moratoriums, delays and a brand tainted by citizen opposition. Instead, lobbyists preferred a food fight, referring in testimony to the citizen groups I work with as “well-funded consultants and wealthy landowners” who are “trying to hide behind a veil of environmentalism.”

I can’t see Maine’s people ever accepting this level of pollution.

Maine’s “brand” is based on clean marine resources and a working waterfront – for lobsters, shellfish, seaweed, fin fish, outfitters, tourism, recreation, real estate and Maine’s residents; all have a stake in these waters. Maine could accelerate restoring fish runs in the hundreds of blocked streams for alewives and other small pelagic fish so larger fisheries can rebound.

Instead, Maine has invited venture capitalists poised to make salmon the new beef – for wealthy consumers. This has nothing to do with protein for the poor. The U.S. is among the world’s five largest exporters of seafood. This is being done for a few to profit from our weak regulations and clean water, all while driving a nail in our wild fisheries with pollution not seen since the fabled chicken factory days. This time, the effluent will out of sight – in 30 or 40 feet of water in our bays and estuaries.

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