Maine DEP looking into salmon die-off at Black Island farm

Published: Sep. 22, 2021 at 8:23 PM EDT
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BAR HARBOR, Maine (WABI) - A die-off of farm-raised salmon in pens just south of Bass Harbor last month is prompting a lot of questions.

Groups concerned about the impact of industrial-scale aquaculture on coastal Maine waters are pressing state regulators. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection is also investigating the incident.

According to emails obtained by a Freedom of Access Act request by Protect Maine’s Fishing Heritage Foundation, a die-off of nearly 100-thousand Salmon was discovered in pens off Black Island on August 16th.

They’re owned by New Brunswick-based Cooke Aquaculture, which notified the Department of Environmental Protection eleven days later.

“That is a long time in between, you know, the emails saying that Cooke knew about it, and when they notified DEP,” said Executive Director of Protect Maine’s Fishing Heritage Foundation Crystal Canney.

A statement from Cooke blames the mortalities on uncommonly low oxygen levels in the cages, and says they first contacted the Department of Marine Resources.

In an email to WABI, Cooke says the die-off was a “fish health” incident and is not a violation of a Department of Environmental Protection permit. Maine DEP’s investigation is ongoing.

“There are some serious questions out there about their farm management systems,” said Canney. “Why are these fish dying off with dissolved oxygen levels, what are they doing with the feed, how are they impacting the bottom is this impacting the lobster fishery that is very heavy around there.”

Protect Maine says leases on ocean acreage are too easy to get, costing just a hundred dollars an acre, with DMR Commissioner Pat Keliher approving them at a rate of 97%.

Protect Maine and various other groups say those factors add to the growing opposition of American Aquafarms plan to put 30 salmon pens in Frenchman Bay, just a few dozen miles from the Black Island pens. American Aquafarms is a Norwegian-owned venture.

“Maine has set the table to bring industrial scale and environmentally polluting large scale industrial aquaculture to the state and it’s wrong,” Canney said. “If DMR cannot manage Black Island, how in God’s name are they going to be able to manage a foreign corporation coming in here with big money, with the potential to expand to 1000 acres.”

Maine Department of Marine Resources was unavailable for an interview about the die-off.

The Maine DEP expects to issue the results of its investigation early next month.

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