By Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union
A representative of a Norway-based aquaculture company told an audience at a public meeting that investors in its planned fish farm facility on Humboldt Bay are confident of the project’s viability and believe conditions are favorable for its success.
Marianne Naess of Nordic Aquafarms hosted a November 14 public meeting at Eureka’s Wharfinger Building, telling an audience of about 60 people that the facility’s features will meet environmental standards and appeal to the market.
She said the land-based facility will feature clean discharge, high quality feed, a 20-acre solar array and virtually escape-proof containment.
Nordic plans to build a $400 million fish farm on the Samoa Peninsula’s former pulp mill site that will produce 22,700 metric tons of head-on-gutted fish per year, serving 50 million West Coast customers.
The county’s Harbor District is leasing the project site and the Board of Supervisors is also supportive of the company’s proposal. The project is gaining community support, has attracted additional business attention to Samoa and controversy is minimal at this point.
Naess said Nordic’s investors have considered seismic/tsunami risks and mitigations, project site conditions and the “stakeholder situation” in determining that the project is viable.
She said the fish feed used will be free of anti-biotics and GMOs, and fish-based ingredients will be avoided as much as possible.
During a question and answer session, Naess said those aspects are related to discharge permits. “The nutrients in the discharge will be dependent on what we feed the fish,” she continued. “We will have a limit, a threshold we will need to stay within.”
The consumer market is also a consideration. “If we don’t do this in a way that’s acceptable to the consumers, we will not succeed,” said Naess.
Earlier this month, Nordic announced that it will be proceeding with the project. Prior to that, there was a period of doubt, as the turbidity of industrial water supply emerged as what a company PowerPoint presentation had described as a potential “show stopper” issue.
Asked about that, Naess said that “the industrial surface water is actually pretty good” and turbidity is only a problem during storm seasons, when it occasionally spikes.
The company is in discussions with the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District on the issue and potential solutions include switching to well water use when the spikes occur or deploying a clarifier.
Reflecting discussions of the Board of Supervisors and county staff, Naess added, “This is not an issue for Nordic Aquafarms in particular, this is for any economic development on the peninsula”
The county is exploring creation of a joint powers authority dedicated to improving Samoa’s water supply and delivery infrastructure.
Asked about potential effects on the bay’s oyster production, Naess said the facility’s outfall pipe extends 1.5 miles offshore and discharge water will feature 99 percent removal of phosphorous, total suspended solids and biological oxygen demand substances. Nitrogen removal will reach 90 percent.
She said that if not for its salinity, discharge from the facility would be safe to drink.
Naess said the degree of fish production will be geared to staying within those limits and they’ll be part of permitting.
“When you go big, you have to invest more in water treatment,” she continued. “We think that’s important and we’re committed to those numbers and they will be in black and white in the permit.”
Nordic will use established filtration technology but “we will take it further than other RAS (Recirculating Aquaculture System) facilities today and hopefully we’re setting a standard – and that’s our goal.”
Competition with the county’s ocean fishing industry may become a higher-profile issue. The board of the Humboldt Fishermen’s Marketing Association will soon be meeting to decide on a stance on the project.
Naess said she hopes there can be “synergies” between the farmed and wild-caught industries and the company’s goal is to “co-exist.”
Permit applications for the project are expected to be submitted this summer and Naess said the company hopes to gain approvals in 12 to 15 months.
The company’s public outreach has been extensive and beginning in January, a local office at 911 Third Street in Eureka will be staffed full-time.