We should be concerned about proposed fish farm

Residents in Jonesport are squaring off against an industrial scale aquaculture project with substantial foreign investment. It is the fourth such large-scale aquaculture project proposed for Maine, three are being proposed by foreign corporations. The Kingfish Maine project should concern everyone who makes their living on the water in and around Jonesport and Beals Island. Why are these projects attracted to Maine in the first place? It is in part our deep, clean, and cold water. But it is more likely about our weak permitting regulations that have allowed this project to move forward.

To understand fully the complexities that have led Maine to be a sought-out location it’s important to understand that Maine is a delegated state for the Environmental Protection Agency enforcement for the Clean Water Act. Yet the Maine Department of Environmental Protection is willing to violate the Clean Water Act by acknowledging the water quality will be reduced by the discharge effluent that will flow into Chandler Bay from the Kingfish Maine fish farm.

Maine’s Department of Economic and Community Development compelled MDEP to go against its own anti-degradation standards by arguing that the water degradation this project would cause was less important than the economic benefit. The letter was based on a paper prepared by two people affiliated with the Margaret Chase Smith School of Policy with considerable input from Kingfish Maine.

If the discharge permit is issued AND granted (this step remains under appeal) the plan will move forward to the Jonesport Planning Board. Construction would include the following: a 4-foot diameter water intake pipe with a 1”x1” screen that will suck in 28 million gallons of water per day from the ocean in Jonesport (Chandler Bay).

Problems?? Kingfish has stated at public meetings the water they bring in from Chandler Bay will go through a filtration system. Some of it coming in contact with the fish, the majority will not. The water that doesn’t come in contact with the fish will be sterilized and then put back into the bay.

The first problem with this method is the sterilization process. Water will come in with lobster larvae, shrimp, clam spat, phytoplankton, and all the small organisms that keep the bay’s marine ecosystem in balance. The sterilization process will kill everything in the water except viruses that kill finfish. No serious, long-term studies have been done by Kingfish about what this does to an ecosystem when one kills all those organisms. Fortunately for Kingfish Maine the State does not require this type of data.

The lack of accurate information, flawed modeling, and 3 times more nitrogen than MDEP usually allows points to a rather large question about the impact for lobstermen, fishermen, scallop draggers, and the fragile marine ecosystem of the bay.

What is coming out of the pipe is not good. The Kingfish Maine selling point has coalesced around sterilized water coming back to the bay. 20% of the water brought in from the ocean will come in contact with the fish before it is pumped back into the ocean. What will be released among many chemicals is nitrogen and the numbers are staggering. The State issued (not granted yet) a wastewater permit that allows Kingfish to discharge 1580 pounds of nitrogen a day into Chandler Bay in Jonesport.

Without some context, this might seem rather benign, particularly if that’s what the State allows. But there are two points that the public needs to know about concerning that discharge. It is far from okay. The city of Portland, with 63,000 residents, discharges 975 pounds of nitrogen a day into the water. Kingfish will discharge 1580 pounds a day. Recall, this huge discharge amount is supported through the efforts of the Department of Economic and Community Development, which has convinced the MDEP to move forward with discharging nitrogen into Chandler Bay which is almost double the entire city of Portland and three times more than MDEP’s stated limit.

The impacts of nitrogen are well documented. Too much nitrogen in the water increases algal blooms, leads to oxygen depletion in the water, which kills any organism that needs oxygen to survive, and can increase toxins for humans.

This past year Jonesport and Beals Island lobstermen accounted for $34 million in real income. Why would we want to put the livelihoods of local people in jeopardy so the millions can be extracted from Maine for the benefit of a foreign corporation? We have seen that play out in Maine over and over again – whether it’s logging, mining, or other industries.

Local people may in fact still have a chance to stop this invasive project by supporting their planning board and its approval process. Now is the time to speak up. Once again it is incumbent on Maine people to make the decisions for what is best for their community.

Why are we always facing the choice of economic benefit over environmental integrity, particularly when Maine people are not always the beneficiaries? Are we satisfied when important decisions are left up to the undermanned State agencies and their foreign corporate ‘friends’ who enjoy an open door with our State leaders but we the people do not?

Richard W. Aishton resides in Washington County
March 9, 2022
Machias Valley News Observer