Letter to the editor: Jim Merkel

Land-based Concentrated Aquatic Feeding Operations haven’t fared so well

Mon, 07/19/2021 - 1:00pm

As the Belfast City council attempts to seize land through eminent domain to build a fish factory, council members should take note that these untested land-based Concentrated Aquatic Feeding Operations (CAFO) haven’t fared so well. 

First, in 2018, just as our city council emerged from months behind closed doors with Nordic Aquafarms, a similar operation, VeroBlue, in Webster City, Iowa, went bankrupt leaving over 70 companies, many of them local businesses, with $100 million in unpaid bills.

Creditors included Webster City itself, and Hamilton County. Promised tax relief and jobs never materialized. The comments page for the articles in local papers told of an angry, misled and lied-to public.

In April, 2021, the Norwegian owned Atlantic Sapphire in Florida experienced several mass die-offs totaling over 800,000 dead fish at its 160-acre industrial operation.

At the same facility, three workers were hospitalized, also in April 2021, after being overcome by fumes from an unknown gas, according to Seafood Source.

Several months later in Maine, LD-1473, a bill likely written, at least in part, by the aquaculture industry, would have exempted the entire industry from Maine’s Uniform Building and Energy Codes, was introduced in the legislature. The bill failed in committee, but it forecasted the risks to workers, animal welfare and the ecosystem when an industry unduly manipulates public processes.

On July 9, 2021, Atlantic Sapphire’s facility in Denmark had a mass die-off, losing 17 percent of the facility’s fish -- 880,000 pounds. 

The Fish Site reported the company suffered a loss of $3 million after expected insurance proceeds. The company’s website states “Blue is the new green.” 

This is the same greenwashing our city council fell prey to by venture capitalists. With meetings full of citizens doing due diligence, hundreds of letters, exposing risks to fishery recovery, the lobster industry, ground water, carbon budgets, the Little River, Bayside and Belfast beaches, and more, our council members chose an echo chamber with the applicant.

As a taxpayer, I object to the City spending untold thousands in staff time and legal fees working in secret, playing a chess game against the public’s interest and then pretending they are taking this risk in the public’s interest. Mayor Eric Sanders said. “I can personally think of no better gift to future generations.”

If the Mayor can’t think of a better gift to your kids than 7.7 million gallons of effluent per day to swim in, I urge him to think harder.

Jim Merkel lives in Belfast.