General Operations / Facility Designback to top
Belfast, Maine was chosen because of its marine tradition, proximity to the market, and access to clean fresh water and sea water.
Nordic Aquafarms has recognized the importance of clean food systems, and we have invested accordingly. Water treatment technologies throughout the facility are tried and proven technologies from global water treatment leaders. Wastewater treatment is hardly new; the question is what any given company is willing to invest to be clean. Land-based facilities are hardly new either. There are dozens of large facilities internationally, with the highest concentrations in Norway. As confidence in these systems have continued to grow, investor confidence and size of facilities have also grown. An increasing number of companies are taking fish to harvest size in these systems as an alternative to net pens. The technology is not experimental, but rapidly developing.
Experience is important. Nordic Aquafarms is the only land-based grow-out producer internationally with three large facilities in operation, with specialized engineers employed. Our senior staff has raised salmon for decades. Our designs are modular with independent tank systems. The Belfast facility will be developed in phases which allows for consistency in procedures repeated for each module. Among the companies announcing new land-based facilities, we have a unique experience base and the benefit of over 50 employees. Our design team has designed facilities for Grieg Seafood, Marine Harvest, and other large seafood players over the past 20 years. We are fortunate to be a RAS company with this level of in-house experience.
When the facility is fully developed after a phased build-out, it will discharge over 7 million gallons a day, but the implications of this have been misrepresented by some folks. Most of the discharged water is water we have borrowed from the bay, and are returning to the bay with less particles than it had coming in. It is rigorously filtered to protect the health of our fish, re-circulated in the tank systems, and treated again before it is returned to the ocean. A significant portion of this marine water is used for cooling. Passing cool ocean water through a heat exchanger requires less energy than other methods. Fresh water makes up only approx. 15 percent of this and is a small volume compared to the many other untreated sources of fresh water flowing into the bay today. Most importantly, the majority of nutrients are removed and recycled before the water is returned to the bay. We remove 99% of total solids, 99% of Phosphorus, 99% of biological oxygen demand (BOD), and 85% of all Nitrogen. These removal rates are the best in the industry.
We asked the Atlantic Salmon Federation, The Conservation Law Foundation, and the Gulf of Maine Research Institute to do an independent peer review of our discharge application. They have all written letters of support that are available to the public stating that they do not see any material impact on the bay from our residual discharge. These are among the most credible environmental institutions in Maine with strong scientific and ecological know-how. We have a self-interest in monitoring all discharge, in addition to any monitoring requirements put forth by the DEP. We support monitoring programs in the bay to promote the overall health of this ecosystem. We want and need clean water and support overall protection efforts in the bay. Our brand is built on an environmental platform, and it would be detrimental to ourselves and all if we caused harm to the bay. Nordic Aquafarms has the highest standard in the industry with regards to wastewater treatment, and the proven experience to execute our Belfast facility.
Environmental scientists have worked to find an optimal placement based on extensive studies of the bay, currents, and modelling. The final recommendation provided to us is placement of the discharge point 1 kilometer from the shoreline. This is consistent with what we communicated in our discharge application and public information meeting in October 2018. The placement is based on optimal dispersion point at a preferable depth. We have been challenged to not put unnecessary piping in the bay unless this gives significant benefit. As there was no clear scientific benefit of extending the pipe further than 1 kilometer, this became the recommended solution. The pipe will not be visible to anyone as it will be buried below the intertidal.
We are approved for permits that allow for long-term growth of this business in Belfast. The first phase of development will be less than 50% of the planned facility. The nutrient discharge in phase 1 will also be under 50% of the permit application level. There will be ample opportunity for the community to follow our development over time, while we will continue to share information regarding the development of the business. By securing permits that allow for long-term development, we are also securing the opportunity to add jobs and development in the community for many years to come.
While lights are used inside the facility at night to create a stable environment for our fish, the facility does not include windows or skylights that allow light to escape at night. Walking paths will be lit with downward facing lights for employee safety. Most entrances and walking paths are in between buildings.
No. Fish tanks are clean and emit no odors. Waste products are stored indoors in sealed containers to prevent odors.
Fish Related Questionsback to top
Our facilities are escape-proof. The Belfast facility will be a minimum 300 feet from any open water source. Multiple mechanical barriers are in place to prevent escape in pipes. For example, our final ultra-filtration step on the discharge treatment is 0.04 micron – small enough to remove bacteria.
Based on practices and knowledge of consumers in our market at least, our decision is we will not pursue that. Genetically engineered fish are not part of the plan.
We do not use it in Norway, and we are not interested in using GMO fish feed here. We are working with several possible suppliers, whose sustainability goals align with ours. Fish health, cost, and quality are all things to consider. The feed industry is constantly changing and improving to meet the demands for the growing and discerning aquaculture happening around the world. We are not likely to make our choices until we get closer to production time.
The nutritional requirements of the fish can be met with a broad range of ingredients that are derived from crops, agricultural byproduct, and sustainable fisheries. More innovative break-through ingredients include fermented single cell proteins, insect meals, and algae oils.
Currently, feed contains approximately 10-15% marine ingredients that are primarily sourced from fisheries processing byproduct such as heads, trimmings, and viscera with the rest coming from sustainably managed fisheries.
Feed manufacturing for aquaculture is an innovative, and sustainable-minded industry. Nordic will be working closely with the feed producers to refine our formulations that prioritize the inclusion of non-marine derived protein sources.
The question here relates to a scenario where there are pathogens in the RAS system. Pre-emptive measures keeping pathogens out of the system are the most important. The bay would be the primary source. NAF still employs the highest protection standards for receiving waters in the industry with a multi-stage treatment system for the proposed project. Ultraviolet light (or UV) is commonly used in aquaculture to neutralize pathogens (bacteria and viruses) that can grow in water. The ability to inactivate bacteria and viruses in water using Ultraviolet (UV) light has been well documented and demonstrated. A large body of research has been published supporting this.
1 . As a result, using UV light now an industry standard in aquaculture. Such research has also led to the identification of specific parameters for how to best use UV light to sterilize water in fish farms. In some cases, this has even led to minimum thresholds being set by regulatory bodies. When it comes to treating water with UV, two key parameters are dosage and wavelength. Dosage of UV light is measured in millijoules/square centimeter (denoted mJ/cm2), while wavelength is measured in nanometers (denoted nm). Research has shown that a wavelength of 254 nm is most effective.
2 . We have selected equipment designed for 250-255 nm. In Norway, where recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) are widely used, a regulatory agency (Norwegian Veterinary Authority) dictates a minimum UV dose of 25 mJ/cm2 . We have committed to using at least 10 times this dosage for treating our discharge in Belfast, Maine. The use generally neutralizes 99 percent of relevant pathogens. Bacteria are removed in the ultrafiltration MBRs, while virus would be neutralized in the UV stage. Its effectiveness is increased when we combined UV with Ozone.
We have never had disease outbreaks requiring the use of antibiotics, although disease can occur with any animals.
NAF´s most important strategy is prevention of disease intake into our systems as we clearly have a strong self-interest in preventing disease. Bio-plans are implemented to mitigate such risk and promote fish welfare. The primary source of pathogens would be the bay. RAS provides unique opportunities to significantly reduce disease risk. Extensive bio-security and quarantine measures are in place in the proposed facility. Therefore, antibiotics would only be used in rare contingency cases or never. Without material use of antibiotics or other substances in the tanks that could conceivably cause resistance, we find the risk of creating “hot spots” of resistant pathogens in the system significantly mitigated. We also find it unlikely there is a problem with resistant bacteria from other aquaculture activities in the area, as there is no significant other production using antibiotics. Theories that bacteria would naturally mutate to resistant bacteria in the RAS system have not been observed in any RAS facilities we are familiar with. It should be noted that there is continuous international research working to improve many aspects of biosecurity in aquaculture, as global food supply is dependent on this industry.
Nordic uses immunization through a vaccination program combined with veterinary monitoring and testing to ensure our fish are healthy without the need for employing antibiotics or medications.
Eggs are sourced from pathogen-free brood stock, disinfected prior to entering the farm, and placed under quarantine until they pass a certified health inspection. Every cohort of fish is tested for all pathogens of concern before being released from quarantine.
Incoming water is filtered to such an extent that bacteria, pathogens, parasites, and viruses are removed; water is further sterilized using ultraviolet light before contact with fish.
An accredited veterinarian will work with us to conduct fish health checks in the facility on a regular basis. Staff will be trained to understand fish behavior and appearance to identify early signs of health issues.
Bio-security measures prevent movement of pathogens onto the farm via people, feed, equipment, pests, or other vectors.
Environmental Concernsback to top
Consumers, businesses, and responsible policy makers increasingly care about the environment. The businesses of the future must incorporate both social responsibility and financial objectives to be truly successful in the long-term. Our brand and future certifications are highly sensitive to our environmental stewardship practices.
Our investment in environmental technologies demonstrates our dedication to protecting the environment, and why Nordic Aquafarms is supported by serious environmental organizations. Belfast was chosen for its clean water resources. Our production requires clean water to produce high quality fish. We have every incentive to be an environmental steward in Belfast to ensure clean water in the future.
Nordic uses Recirculating Aquaculture Systems (RAS) instead of net pens, flow-through raceways, or ponds. Land-based RAS farming was developed to mitigate impacts of these other types of fish farming.
- Nordic cleans and reuses production water.
- Nordic treats all water coming in and out of the farm for disease-causing pathogens.
- Nordic removes all solid waste from effluent and only discharges treated water.
- Nordic has extensive barriers to prevent fish escape.
- Nordic does not need medication and pesticides to treat parasites such as sea lice as they cannot enter the farm due to our extensive filtration and water treatment before the water enters the farm.
No. Our buildings will displace approx. 30 acres of forest that has been logged on a regular basis, as recently as last year by its owners. We are also replanting areas and maintaining green visual buffers. In return for this, Belfast will be producing approx. 7 percent of US consumption of salmon. In addition, we are working with the city to protect 80 acres at the upper reservoir for the community to enjoy through a donation.
We do not use growth hormones, antibiotics, GMO, or pesticides in our daily production. We apply many of the same standards as with humans: we vaccinate our fish to prevent disease, we protect our fish against exposure to disease with a robust multi-layered approach and would only consider medication in exceptional cases in consultation with specialized Maine veterinarians. We produce a natural product and thus do not add any harmful chemicals to the production water. FDA approved cleaners and disinfectants are used to clean other parts of the facility and are not directly discharged in any material quantities. We do add a carbon source to our nitrogen reduction system that is consumed by natural nitrogen consuming bacteria. Thus, it is not discharged and has no impact on the environment.
The amount of fish meal used is consistently being reduced. Feed producers are now also actively removing potential contaminants from their fish meal. New sustainable ingredients such as insect meal and algae products that are rich in omega 3 and 6 are rapidly emerging in the market. We are monitoring these developments before choosing our feed in Belfast. We will produce a clean and natural product. Our products in Belfast will have full traceability for the consumer – this is the future of seafood.
In addition to all the biosecurity measures in place to ensure that the facility remains disease free, all water leaving the fish production areas including floor drains and processing will undergo extensive treatment of ultrafiltration through 0.04 micron filters equivalent to 1.5748e-6 inches in size before passing through UV disinfection at 300mJ/cm2.
The US ranks #1 and chicken and beef production, and #2 in pork production. However, we rank #16 in seafood production. We have much work to do. Salmon have a higher percentage of protein and energy retention when compared to the other protein sources on the graphic below. The feed conversion ratio is also the most efficient, given that for every 1.1 pounds of feed, you get 1 pound of fish.
When we look at the efficiency in use of local resources, our salmon will be one of the most resource efficient.
Currently, over 90% of fresh salmon is airfreighted into the US with a CO2 footprint three times our local CO2 footprint. We reduce our footprint further by employing renewable energy solutions. A fresh local product with much less CO2 is environmentally sensible and important in terms of creating sustainable domestic food systems in the US. It is approximately 6,000 miles from Chile and 3,500 from Norway to the customers we would serve in the Northeast region.
The Belfast facility will displace a portion of imports from these overseas locations with a local craft seafood product. It is therefore also taking pressure off CO2 growth that contributes to climate change.
The lowest CO2 footprint would come from wild salmon fishing or local net pen production. No one sees potential for significant growth of either of these in the US in the coming decades. That leaves land-based production as the cleanest CO2 alternative to grow domestic supply.
The reason the Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF) has written a letter of support for this project is that their scientific review of our application concludes that there will be little impact from our farm and that it will contribute to taking pressure off wild salmon populations. Our biosecurity and fish escape measures are foremost in the industry. We also take the hosts for sea lice out of the ocean to prevent growth in potentially harmful parasite populations.
Some people prefer wild salmon. Wild salmon populations have been under huge pressure for many years with strictly regulated fishing quotas on the West Coast. Wild Atlantic Salmon is not commercially available. With the worsening state of oceans and human activity that have impacted salmon rivers, the prospects of significant increases in wild salmon runs in the next decades is nowhere in sight. Wild salmon will never come close to fulfilling US demand and the product is not used in sushi/sashimi due to parasite risk. Wild salmon is, in many ways, a different product than ours with a higher price point. We support efforts to restore salmon runs, meanwhile there is a need to address a large and growing demand gap for seafood.
Our wastewater system removes the bulk of nutrients for recycling. And the residual discharge is going into a bay with trillions of gallons of water. It is like a drop of water in a bucket. Even though we go far beyond current industry standards by removing 85% nitrogen, we do have elevated levels of nitrogen compared to background levels. The residual discharge is, however, less than 1 percent of the nitrogen already going into the bay. And the ammonia component which would be the most harmful one, is lower than background levels in the bay. If other current dischargers raised their treatment level to only 50 % of our level, we would see material reductions in nutrient discharge along the entire coastline.
The Gulf of Maine Research Institute and the Conservation Law Foundation have reviewed our application and not found cause for concern. As far as risk of algae blooms go, there are other contributing factors that pose a far greater risk than our facility. We will remain diligent in contributing to the health of the bay as a part of our environmental stewardship strategy.
In salmon production, smolt must be produced in freshwater (in nature they hatch and grow in rivers). In the following grow-out phase, salmon can grow in the range from freshwater to pure seawater. Our experience and other research show that there is significant benefit of including a certain freshwater component also in the grow-out phase. We understand that the people of Belfast want to ensure healthy aquifers for the future. As we have stated from day one – we will only withdraw sustainable levels of fresh water on our property, also in long-term draught scenarios. Depleting aquifers would be like shooting ourselves in the foot, so we also have a strong self-interest in healthy aquifers.
To quality ensure sustainable levels, we have spent several hundred thousand dollars on groundwater testing and monitoring in Belfast to fully understand the aquifers in the area. We now have extensive data and documentation from experts in Maine. To ensure that we have no negative impact, we have concluded that we will limit any ground water withdrawal to 450 gallons/minute. Our systems have now been configured for high salinity levels as ocean water will be the primary source of water in this facility. A smaller freshwater component is required for smolt production and to promote an optimal fish welfare environment for the fish.
The extensive data collection and secondary assessments done by an additional environmental consultancy conclude that our proposed withdrawal will not have negative effects on the overall health of the watershed area in Belfast. It also concludes that other local wells are safe. We will have fully transparent monitoring practices in place to give assurances to the community in the future.
Economic Impact and Employmentback to top
Nordic is using Gilbane for construction management and general contractor. However, Nordic will prioritize and optimize opportunities for local contractors by creating smaller bid-packages and sub-contracts. The Nordic project is expected to create approximately 250-300 jobs annually during the multi-year construction period.
The project will create many ancillary business opportunities for local entrepreneurs.
Wages, ancillary spending will result in millions of additional dollars infused into the local economy and local spending on supplies and services will increase during Nordic’s multi-year construction phase.
Nordic plans to hire as many qualified workforce as possible from the local area.
Nordic expects to offer about 150 full-time jobs with benefits when the facility is fully built out. In addition, there will be many indirect jobs generated in support of the facility (truck drivers, food service, etc.)
We’ve had opportunities to work with all grade levels with in-classroom and virtual interactive presentations. Nordic is excited to work with the newly launched Marine Institute at Belfast Area High School to introduce information to students about careers in aquaculture, support in-classroom educational programs and more. Nordic staff have been instrumental in connecting with Maine’s colleges and university programs in assisting with the development of RAS-oriented curriculum and career paths. Additionally, to facilitate movement within the company, NAF will be creating on-site career development opportunities for employees.
Community Engagementback to top
The Nordic team has gone to great lengths to be transparent, inclusive, and comprehensive in their research and sharing results throughout the public process. Nordic has a Public Relations and Outreach Manager (a local community liaison), Jacki Cassida, who is available to help communicate with and educate the public about the project. Jacki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nordic has conducted multiple public information meetings, been meeting with all interested stakeholder groups and residents, and held numerous presentations for local groups. In addition, Nordic is available for in-person/digital office hours to answer questions from residents.