“The waters of Jonesport-Beals are going to be the ‘guinea pigs’ in a huge experiment. Are we willing to risk our heritage fisheries by allowing this experiment to go forward?”
When I first read in 2019 about the yellowtail Kingfish Farm proposed for Jonesport, I thought that maybe it would be something positive for the towns. Over time, information has come to light which has changed my opinion. With a project of such immense size and permanence, it’s imperative that everything Kingfish has presented to our communities is complete, accurate, and in no way will threaten our local heritage fisheries, natural resources, or way of life. Other towns in Maine are also being approached with aquaculture proposals. Equally concerned citizens are raising questions about all of them.
Maine is luring land-based aquaculture with big tax incentives and assistance in the permitting process. Our state government pitches the perceived attributes of RAS systems online. At Maine.gov, we’re told RAS (recirculating aquaculture system) farms draw a ”very small amount of water from the ocean.” Also the state insists,“The water leaving RAS farms is of the same or higher quality as that of water coming in.” Maine is declaring we must “seize the opportunity,” wanting us to believe this RAS farm will “complement our heritage fisheries,” all the while assuring us that “RAS technology is eco-friendly, posing no threat to our environment.” Our state should hold the aquaculture farms to these standards, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.
In 2019 when Kingfish company CEO Ohad Maiman came to town, he stated several things about the proposed farm that are worth a second look. At a meeting in November 2019, Maiman told citizens the farm would be using and discharging 9 million gallons of sea water per day. Now we know through permit applications, Kingfish will actually pump 28 Million gallons of sea water a day (10.22 BILLION gallons a year) taken in through 1 Inch screens, through their system. That’s over 3 times more than was described in the Nov. 2019 meeting! Why weren’t townspeople given accurate information back in 2019? This is NOT a “very small amount of water.” Furthermore, when residents were told by KF and by the state that all this water will be “cleaner” than when it was taken from the bay, KF didn’t think to mention that due to UV treatment, heat exchangers, and final filtration, all the tiny life forms of our vital fishing industries within those millions of gallons of water will die. After subsequent questioning by concerned citizens, KF admits that is true.
Of additional concern, Kingfish expressed in 2019 they aspire to increase capacity of the massive 15-20 acre Jonesport building once it’s in operation. It’s probable that even more water will need to be drawn from Chandler Bay upon expansion. Since KF has admitted all life will be killed in one phase or another of their circulation system, increasing salt water intake would mean even more mortality to the eggs, spat/ larval forms of lobsters, crabs, scallops, fish, mussels, clams, etc on which a healthy future of our OWN native species depend. How eco-friendly is that? It’s certainly no “complement” to our fisheries.
We have been told by KF that nitrogen levels released in the effluent won’t harm Chandler Bay or other local waters. However, permit applications indicate nitrogen will be discharged at 288.5 TONS/year (1580 lbs/day). Increasing farm capacity will mean the release of even higher levels. This nitrogen discharge will happen continuously for years on end, accumulating in our coastal waters, nonstop! KF’s permit shows the plant WILL exceed state standards set for maximum nitrogen discharge allowed before degradation of vital eel grass habitats occurs. A YouTube 2 minute video explains the effects of excess nitrogen in the ocean waters, which can indeed be harmful to eel grass and other life. Algae blooms, depletion of oxygen, and dead zones are some of the detrimental effects excess nitrogen has had in many regions of the world. Is that what we want to happen here? If this state is so concerned about the viability of our fisheries, why encourage an industry that actually threatens them?
In 2019, Maiman reassured townspeople that his company would “go the extra mile whenever possible on sustainability.” If so, then a totally closed RAS would the facility’s design to protect our fisheries and ecosystem instead of the open design they’re intent on. Touting the company’s environmental friendliness, we were told KF will be certified by ASC and BAP, as they are in Zeeland. The truth is that any new facility would need to be audited and approved on it’s own merit to gain certification. How any claim to sustainability could be made, while destroying so many of our own fisheries’ future stock in their early stages of life, is perplexing. Adding 288.5 tons of discharged nitrogen into Chandler Bay per year doesn’t seem “eco-friendly” either. How much damage will that do to our ecosystem? Will we have to deal with “dead zones” that excess nitrogen can create? Surely, any permits, certification, or claims of sustainability should take into account the harm done to our own native sea life. Is our state protecting our heritage fisheries in its eagerness to gain this kind of aquaculture business?
We’ve heard a great deal about the jobs KF will create. Even the SCEC has weighed in, supporting this massive fish farm. (Oddly, no disclaimer was made about KF Maine’s Operations Manager, Megan Sorby, sitting on the SCEC Board of Directors.) Back in 2019 Maiman predicted 70 jobs at this new RAS facility. He explained that 60 jobs will be low-skilled, (Meaning minimum wage?) and only 10 will require any kind of training or degree. Should we get excited about this? Will our local residents want to work those low-skill jobs? Will this entice our college graduates to stay in J-B? It seems a poor exchange for the risk to our fisheries.
When Kingfish came to town they were described as “an established, good, solid company.” suggesting many years of successful operation. The reality is Kingfish began in a garage in 2015, and didn’t open their current yellowtail RAS facility in the Netherlands until 2018. This company is in a great, big hurry to expand. I applaud their growth and ambition. However, isn’t is a bit presumptive to say this young company has the proper experience to allow them to build a mammoth plant FOUR TIMES LARGER here with aquaculture technology that is very new to Maine and only very recently been used commercially worldwide? In fact, a nature.com March 24, 2021 article says, ”The competitiveness of recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) for full grow- out relative to other production systems remains uncertain, and there have been several failures in North America and Europe and few large-scale, commercial successes over multiple years.” The waters of Jonesport-Beals are going to be the “guinea pigs” in a huge experiment. Are we willing to risk our heritage fisheries by allowing this experiment to go forward?
Much debate goes on about our children’s future. We need to take time to learn about new companies which want to move into our communities. I see unacceptable risk with KF’s proposal, and threats to the way of life I strive to preserve. Others hope and dream about “good jobs” and “more money for the town” which may not pan out as positively as they expect. If we allow KF to settle in, by the time we do see negative effects of nitrogen accumulation and continuous destruction of larval sea life on which the health of our future fisheries depend, it will be too late. Townspeople need to know the risks and consider this idea very carefully; Maiman has already said that once they build here, they are here to stay.
By Glenda Beal
- White, Cliff. “Kingfish Zeeland Details Plans for New US RAS Yellowtail Farm in Jonesport, Maine.” seafoodsource.com 21 Nov, 2019.
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- seafoodsource.com, 232 Jan, 2020
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- “A 20-Year Retrospective Review of Global Aquaculture.” Sections: Harmful Algae Blooms; Recirculating Aquaculture Systems; Outlook. nature.com. 24 Mar, 2021.