Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – A huge indoor fish farm project has submitted a first round of permit applications and its managers are confident that regulators will find its environmental impacts to be minimal.
The Norway-based Nordic Aquafarms company took written questions and presented what its managers described as a “very low risk” project during a Sept. 9 videoconferenced public meeting.
Nordic has advanced discharge permit applications to the state’s water board and Coastal Commission. Humboldt County will take the lead on the project’s California Environmental Quality Act review and coastal development permitting.
David Noyes, the company’s vice president of technology, upheld the planned facility’s multi-tier water filtration. “They’re so effective that they’re actually able to filter out particles down to the size of bacteria,” he said. “And that’s how we’re able to get such an efficient and effective reduction of all the constituents of the effluent before it leaves the facility.”
The discharge water is also disinfected with a dose of ultraviolet light that is six times higher than what’s considered as a standard, Noyes continued.
“We’re really applying similar treatment levels, methods and standards to what you’d expect to see in a drinking water facility, if someone was taking surface water to then give to the general public for consumption,” he said.
The land-based facility will consist of six buildings on the Samoa Peninsula at the site of the former Louisiana-Pacific pulp mill. Noyes said that in full operation, the project’s maximum water discharge will be 12.5 million gallons per day.
The mill was a toxic disaster site that’s been cleaned up but its legacy also includes something that negates the potential for construction-related controversy – a pre-existing outfall pipe that’s 36 inches in diameter and 8,200 feet long.
Marianne Naess, Nordic’s commercial director, said the project will actually improve the site’s visual aesthetics because it involves demolition of the smokestack and buildings associated with the former pulp mill.
When a question about odor impacts was asked, Edward Cotter, Nordic’s senior vice president of projects, said there will be none other than a “faint saltwater smell” similar to ocean water.
”We all remember what it smelled like when the pulp mill was operational and nobody wants to head in that direction at all,” said Scott Thompson, a Nordic project manager.
Answering questions about earthquake and tsunami risks, Naess said a preliminary tsunami risk evaluation shows that in a 2,500-year event, the site won’t be “fully inundated to the top level of the tanks so there’s no way that water itself will push the fish out of the tanks.”
Thompson said construction will account for ground liquefaction in an earthquake and “the intention of the design is that in a worst case scenario, this facility will still be intact.”
Asked by Humboldt Baykeeper about use of chemicals to address disease outbreaks, anti-biotics and heavy metals, Noyes emphasized that land-based aquaculture facilities have “the ability to exclude parasites and pathogens” and a fish vaccination program will target “any identified pathogens of concern.”
Presence of heavy metals is “the fastest way to kill your fish” so it will be constantly screened through “world class water quality analysis capabilities,” he continued.
The company has not had to use anti-biotics or chemical treatments in any of its other facilities, he continued.
Nordic’s managers said the $500 million project will produce 25,000 metric tons of fish per year, create 150 jobs at the facility itself and 250 to 300 jobs during its construction phase.
Nordic has also promised not to raise genetically-modified fish. The type of fish species hasn’t been firmly decided yet but Naess said Atlantic salmon is a “better choice” than others.
That’s a concern for the fishing industry coastwide, as a cheaper salmon option is believed to have the potential to impact the wild-caught market.
Naess said the intent would actually be to compete against the predominant import market.
Asked about the timeline for a California Department of Fish and Wildlife aquaculture permit that would define species, Naess said an application will be forwarded “as soon as possible” and has been delayed due to COVID-19 considerations.
Permit approvals will be sought in the upcoming year and Naess said demolition and additional site clean-up will take eight months. The project will be built in two phases beginning in the fall of 2022, with its first fish hitting the West Coast market in 2025.