February 8, 2021
Governor Janet T. Mills
1 State House Station
Augusta, ME 04333
Dear Governor Mills,
I am writing on behalf of Friends of Frenchman Bay to solicit your input and help in finding a solution for a very serious threat to the character, culture, beauty and economic stability of Frenchman Bay.
American AquaFarms, a Wyoming-registered, American subsidiary of a Norwegian company is applying for an aquaculture lease to install and operate two untested, industrial scale sets of closed fin fish pens in Frenchman Bay, in the shadow of Cadillac Mountain.
The attached letter describes the problem and the difficulties, in light of existing legislation, of coming to an equitable solution.
In your recent letter to the Maine fishermen and fishing organizations, you stated: “New, commericial-scale offshore wind projects do not belong in state waters that support the majority of the State’s lobster fishing activity, that provide important habitat for coastal marine and wildlife species and that support a tourist industry based on Maine’s iconic coastal views.”
Similarly, we firmly believe that this unplanned, untested industrial scale ocean based fin fish aquaculture project is totally inappropriate, dangerous and does not belong in waters bordering Acadia National Park.
We support clean aquaculture as healthy growth industry for the State of Maine. We believe it’s siting must be planned, it must be environmentally safe and sustainable, it must be complementary to established uses of the area. It must not upend the current economic balance of the area, nor should it allow the profits to flow out of state, leaving the taxpayers to assume all the liabilities.
We hope you will consider the issue with your usual care and thoughtfulness. If you agree with our analysis, we would appreciate your advice and help as to how we and/or the State should proceed.
Very truly yours,
Ann Michelson Hirschhorn, M.D.
(below is attached letter)
RE: AMERICAN AQUAFARMS APPLICATION FOR AN INDUSTRIAL SCALE AQUACULTURE LEASE IN FRENCHMAN BAY
Dear Governor Mills,
WHO WE ARE: Friends of Frenchman Bay, a citizens’ group formed in 2017, is now a State Of Maine Non-Profit Mutual Benefit Corporation. Our mission is to protect and preserve Frenchman Bay, our national treasure. We strongly believe a huge industrial scale ocean-based aquaculture facility does not belong in Frenchman Bay. We write seeking your input, advice and help.
Our History: We have successfully opposed a megapier and Port Authority for Bar Harbor as inappropriate for this Bay. Even without their development, Bar Harbor citizens are coming to realize that unlimited cruise tourism destroys the character and culture of their town, drives away land tourists, overwhelms the Park and does not bring in as much revenue as the industry projected. The Town Council is currently considering further limitations on cruise ship visits after Covid-19.
With Representative Lynne Williams we have submitted legislation for establishment of a legislative study group. The group would evaluate the need for, and develop legislation to, institute regional planning for use of the State’s submerged lands and waters, establishing regionally elected units with planning, watchdog and enforcement authority which would complement the state agency processes currently in place. We are also developing a No Discharge Area application for the Bay. email@example.com
THE FACTS: American AquaFarms: is a Wyoming-registered American subsidiary of a privately owned Norwegian company. The owner and CEO, Mikael Roenes, whose experience is in finance not fishing, has been convicted, imprisoned for 2 1/2 years and fined for criminal investor fraud in Norway.
The Proposal: American AquaFarms is applying for two 60 acre ocean-based fin fish aquaculture lease sites in Frenchman Bay north and northeast of the Porcupine Islands to raise 66 million pounds (30,000 metric tons) of salmon annually in an experimental closed pen system. This is nearly equivalent to the 72 million pound annual salmon harvest projected for the industrial-zoned, land-based RAS system proposed for Belfast. There would be 4 linear arrays totaling 30 150 foot wide pens. Visually each site would hold 36 2000 passenger cruise ships packed side by side and stem to
stern. They would rise 3 feet above the water with an additional bird cover, generators, waste filtration, lights, and two 150 foot long 24 hour staffed service barges. As far as we can tell, this newly designed closed pen system has only been used experimentally in one or two sites on a very small scale in Norway. Another similar experimental installation is planned for the west coast in British Columbia. No hard data is available as to the system’s safety, cost-effectiveness, longevity, and sustainability. These units have never been installed or tested on this scale anywhere in the world. The pens allegedly preclude problems of escape…unless the outer plastic polymer bags are breached or destroyed or torn off their moorings. Solid waste will be filtered out, sediment removed and reprocessed. Cold water is pumped in from the deep waters of the designated sites; untreated liquified effluent is pumped back into the Bay.
Dissolved waste products and food, nitrogen, phosphorus, pheromones, pharmaceuticals, toxins, and infectious contaminants may be reduced by 30% but not eliminated (at the least promoting algal blooms and threatening the organic certification of a nearby existing aquaculture lease). The applicants claim that sea lice are not present in the cold waters at the depth from which they will pump. Other reports contest that claim. There is no recorded data as to the ability of this system to withstand the winds and high seas of the open waters of Frenchman Bay storms. The staff will be living on the barges. Either the staff would be at risk during storms or the pens would be left unprotected if the staff returned to port.
PROBLEMS: Maine’s aquaculture leasing process has limited criteria by which to determine approval:
Cannot unreasonably interfere with:
ingress and egress of riparian owners within 1000 feet
wildlife and marine habitat, flora and fauna
public use or enjoyment within 1000 feet of beach, park or docking facility on federal, state, municipal or conserved lands
Must not result in unreasonable impact on noise or lights at boundaries Must comply with visual impact criteria.
In addition, with a Discharge Lease, the state DEP must assure water quality standards are met. When there are structures in the water, the US Army Corps of Engineers must review navigation and environmental impacts and assure water quality and other standards are met.
There is no submerged land and coastal water use planning: The Shoreland Zone is protected from unplanned, inappropriate and/or dangerous development through Maine’s landmark Mandatory Shoreland Zoning Act of 1971. Maine’s submerged lands and coastal waters have no such protection. Maine’s economy needs to grow. Maine’s world renowned natural coastline and marine resources need to be protected and preserved. The Shoreland Zone is zoned by individual municipalities conforming to a state model ordinance. The submerged lands and coastal waters are not. From the low water mark to the three mile limit, they are owned by the State which holds them in trust for the public. No plan has been made as to what should happen where in State waters. As a result, businesses and industries are picking away wherever they see an opportunity to buy up some working waterfront zoned property and apply for an aquaculture lease at a site of their choosing that meets their criteria. Significant input from local municipalities and residents is not sought. US citizenship, Maine residence and professional experience in aquaculture are not prerequisites. The lease is then granted if the applicant meets the DMR’s legally limited and subjectively defined criteria (how does one objectively define “unreasonable” interference or impact?) as well as DEP and USACE standards where indicated.
OUR OPINION: Whether or not this application meets DMR Aquaculture lease criteria, it should be denied on other grounds:
First: As an industrial scale installation it would represent the first step in industrialization of a Bay whose current maximum usage is light commercial and which should never be be zoned more than that. The area’s current major industries are tourism/recreation; science; education; sustainable fishing, farming and harvesting of marine flora and fauna; businesses serving the seasonal visitors and supporting the year round population. The region’s economy is symbiotic and in balance: lobstermen bring in their haul and sell it to restaurants, markets and a profitable export trade. Tourists and residents buy and consume the lobsters. Hotels house tourists who rent kayaks, bicycles, buy excursion tickets, hike and view in the Park, buy souvenirs and take photos to bring home.
Before such a lease is granted, a regional decision needs to be made: should the Frenchman Bay area continue to do what it has been doing successfully and continue to develop its assets in a sustainable fashion or should economic developers be allowed to proceed, controlled only by legislation which was enacted years ago, does not address these issues or give adequate voice to those affected?
Second: The fin fish pens will create an indelible stain on the iconic scenic views from Acadia National Park, which records 3,500,000 visits a year and supports 5000 local jobs. It is the only national park on the eastern coast. It is the prime tourist attraction in Maine and one of the top attractions on the eastern seaboard. The Park states that its business is scenery. It describes itself as an archipelago: a group or chain of land masses surrounded by a body of water. The founders donated the Park’s land in trust for the people of the nation, to be preserved in its natural state for the enjoyment and education of this and future generations. We are certain they would have purchased the waters as well, were they not already owned by the State, also in trust for the public. On a more personal note, when one of us took a college course in art history, the professor threw up a slide with a broad band of light blue across the top and another band of dark blue across the bottom. Where they met there were 3 oval blobs of dark forrest green. He asked what the students thought it represented. Without thinking, our student blurted out: the Porcupine Islands in Frenchman Bay, an iconic vista indelibly etched on her memory. Would Marsden Hartley have painted this scene if he had to include a series of mechanistic circular structures in the foreground? Will people still get up before dawn to see the sunrise from Cadillac if their souvenir photos include two series of industrial fish pens each occupying a 1/2 mile by nearly 1/4 mile area of the bay? Could the wilderness still be considered pristine? How much irreparable ecologic damage will the environment sustain from the inevitable pollution associated with ocean-based fin fish farming?
Third: Since there is great concern about the effect of climate change on the lobster industry, why would the State of Maine give away 120 acres of prime lobstering grounds in the coldest part of the Bay to an untested and unproven experiment in industrial scale aquaculture?
There is growing sentiment among the lobster fishermen against aquaculture’s cumulative effect on its fishing grounds. Lobsters migrate over the course of the seasons and their life cycles. Lobster fishermen must be able to follow their meandering paths which means moving traps from area to area over the course of the season. The total catch will be significantly reduced if more and more areas become “off limits”.
Fourth: Review of the aquaculture lease regulations suggests that they were developed for small businesses. They do not require the financial due diligence that any prudent investor or landlord would undertake for an industrial scale transaction. The rent and escrow/bond requirements are minimal, essentially not covering state costs and giving all the hefty projected profits to private US and foreign investors. Should
there be a disaster —- and historically there have been a significant number in the ocean-based fin fish aquaculture industry —-the State (and thus the taxpayers) would be left responsible for the clean-up and the damages.
Short term options: The only current avenue open to those in opposition to an application is to raise public awareness, solicit funds, hire a lawyer, obtain intervenor status, hire experts to research criteria and voice opposition only on the basis of the legally determined criteria. It seems such a waste of State, applicant and opposition time, effort and money to adjudicate an issue on grounds that, in this case, are not the most compelling reasons for denial.
Longterm Solution: It is inevitable that conflicts will arise between economic development and environmental conservation. Maine has not addressed this issue for its submerged lands and coastal waters. Friends of Frenchman Bay has examined problems which have arisen up and down the coast and, because Maine’s coastline is complex and diverse, we have concluded that there is need for a forum and process for regional submerged land and coastal water use planning.
The State should develop a model planning ordinance and create, in this home rule state, mandatory municipally elected regional planning units for each large bay. They would be charged with developing a regional plan based on the model ordinance, and act as watchdogs with power of enforcement. This would complement the established leasing and licensing processes and relieve some of the agencies’ work overload. If an application did not meet the zoning requirements for the area, it would be screened out before submission to the State, eliminating expense in money, time and effort for the State as well as the applicant and those in opposition.
Each region would decide its own status. For example, Eastport enjoys its Port Authority designation; Bar Harbor eventually found it didn’t want or need it. Industrial ocean-based aquaculture may be appropriate elsewhere on the coast when it isn’t in Frenchman Bay. Each region knows its own culture, character, needs. assets and liabilities, and is best informed to decide its specific destiny.
With Representative Lynne Williams, we have developed and submitted legislation proposing a legislative study group to examine the issue and propose pertinent legislation.
If such legislation were currently in place, Frenchman Bay would have been zoned, at most, light commercial. American AquaFarms would not meet the established zoning
designation and thus could not be considered for leasing sites in Frenchman Bay. This is the process which occurs on land governed by the Mandatory Shoreland Zoning Act. When Nordic Farms purchased land for its land-based Recirculating Aquaculture System (RAS) farm, it had to have the land re-zoned as industrial before submitting its application to DEP for the water-based portions of its operation.
CURRENT ACTION: Governor Mills, you have written that “New, commercial-scale offshore wind development projects do not belong in state waters that support the majority of the State’s lobster fishing activity, that provide important habitat for coastal marine and wildlife species and that support a tourist industry based in part on Maine’s iconic coastal views.”
We believe this is also true, in some areas, for for industrial scale ocean-based aquaculture. If you agree, please help us find a way to prevent approval of such inappropriate leases while encouraging their development in other more appropriate, safer and welcoming sites, when and if the technology is proven feasible, safe and cost-effective at that scale.
For the American AquaFarms application, we suggest a way needs to be found to:
a. obtain legal standing for the two most compelling major issues (industrialization of the Bay; defiling one of Maine and the nation’s premium viewsheds) so they can be elucidated, evaluated and considered during the adjudication process without having to resort to multiple expensive lawsuits and/or decisions based on less compelling criteria;
b. declare Frenchman Bay a heavy commercial-free zone;
c. declare a moratorium on industrial scale ocean-based closed pen fin fish aquaculture until
i. the technology is fully proven and found safe and cost-effective for Maine State waters and
ii. until the DMR lease regulations are expanded to cover industrial scale projects; or
d. another solution.
We would be most grateful for your advice and help in finding a timely and equitable solution for this issue. Very truly yours,
Board of Friends of Frenchman Bay