Company rep: Fish farm grades high on ‘environmental scorecard’

FARMING FISH Marianne Naess of Nordic Aquafarms explains the proposed fish farm and how it will be environmentally safe. Daniel Mintz | Union

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT – A representative of a Norway-based aquaculture company described a land-based fish farm facility planned for Humboldt as one that will emit clean discharge, virtually eliminate the risk of escapes and disease, and won’t use GMOs, antibiotics or hormones. 

Humboldt County is poised to become the capital of aquaculture on West Coast, as the Nordic Aquafarms company is proceeding with an effort to build a fish farm on the Samoa Peninsula. 

Last February, the county’s Harbor District approved a lease with the company for use of 30 acres of the former Louisiana Pacific pulp mill site for the aquaculture facility, with an option for an additional 20 acres for a solar energy park. 

At a public meeting held at Eureka’s Wharfinger Building on May 21, Marianne Naess, Nordic Aquafarms’ commercial director, told an audience of about 40 people that the “environmental scorecard” for the project rates high in all categories. 

“We are taking out 85 percent of the nitrogen in the discharge and 95 percent of the phosphorous, biological oxygen demand, and total suspended solids,” she said. “So it’s a fairly clean discharge.” 

She described the quality of the discharge treatment as “probably the highest you can find in this industry as of today” and said there will be “several layers of treatment in our wastewater treatment plant to be able to achieve this.” 

Naess also said the risk of parasites and disease will be virtually eliminated. The possibility can’t be completely ruled out, she added, but the company hasn’t had any disease in its existing facilities and the level of disease elimination will be “99.9 percent.”   

The type of fish feed to be used will be based on best quality, she continued, and will contain no anti-biotics, GMOs or growth hormones. She said algae- or insect-based feed is in development and if possible, will be used instead of fish meal. 

The company has three facilities in Norway and is building its first U.S.facility in Belfast, Maine. The Humboldt facility will be the company’s fifth and like the others, will use a recirculating aquaculture system. 

Naess said that the Humboldt facility will produce 22,700 metric tons of gutted fish per year and serve a West Coast market of 50 million customers. It represents a $400 million investment. 

The planned facility’s discharges will be 1.5 miles offshore. Discharge content was a focus of audience questions. 

After explaining that 85 percent nitrogen removal is a “fairly high number,” Naess was asked, “Would you swim in the wastewater that you’re making?” 

“Yes, I would swim in it,” she responded. “I could even drink it, except for the salinity.” 

When another audience member asked if the discharge could be compared to the water in an aquarium, Naess said that it’s “way, way cleaner.” 

She described the facility’s discharges to be too clean to be labelled as wastewater. 

Audience questioning also focused on the type of fish species that will be produced. Naess ruled out production of GMO fish, saying she wouldn’t eat it herself. 

On species type, she said Atlantic salmon and steelhead salmon are being considered. There seems to be a public preference for steelhead, she continued, but market research is underway and a firm determination hasn’t been made. 

“It’s going to be a long discussion” Naess said. “Ultimately, we will produce what we get a permit for and what the market wants.” 

She added, “We will ensure that we are making the right choice for California and the West Coast, and the consumers.” 

The fish produced will be very high quality, said Naess, as currents will be constantly flowing through the facility’s holding areas. That will allow for “24/7 exercise” and a firm-fleshed fish product. 

Asked about its price per pound, Naess said the customer price for farmed fish is in the $10 per pound range and the price for wild-caught fish is $16 to $17 per pound. Nordic’s fish will be priced “somewhere in between,” she continued. 

Former Humboldt State University President Rollin Richmond was in the audience and asked if the university and College of the Redwoods will be tapped to provide “economic, sociological and scientific advice.” 

Naess said they will be and the collaboration has already begun. “That’s one of the reasons we came here, is that there is a scientific community and a lot of good candidates to work at the facility,” she continued. 

Earlier, Naess had said the Humboldt County site is best possible choice on the entire West Coast. 

She outlined the project’s potential schedule, with permit applications envisioned to be completed by March 2020 and construction starting in 2021. 

Naess said that the company hopes to begin selling fish five years from now

. When fully operational, the facility will provide 80 full-time jobs.