Salmon farm going to college

The site as it looks today. Via Nordic Aquafarms

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT – ​​College of the Redwoods (CR) expects to begin offering aquaculture courses in the fall of 2022, which will prepare students for careers in what is likely to be Humboldt County’s newest economic linchpin.

​The Norway-based Nordic Aquafarms company is proceeding with permit applications for a large and complex indoor fish farm on the Samoa Peninsula. The $400 million project will consist of six buildings on the Samoa Peninsula at the site of the former Louisiana-Pacific pulp mill.

​The facility will produce 33,000 metric tons of fish per year, putting Humboldt County on the map as the West Coast’s aquaculture hub.

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​As described during a November 10 public videoconference, local schools are readying to prepare students for a new local career path.

​“It has been a really awesome experience working with our partners at Nordic Aquafarms, they have been super-supportive and have provided super-valuable information based on their experience in the industry,” said Kerry Mayer, dean of CR’s career education division.

​The college is also working with the Hog Island Oyster Company, the Blue Lake Rancheria and Eureka High School and county agencies. “We feel like we have some great industry partners and some great community partners and we’re really looking forward to creating a program that serves our community in really important ways,” Mayer said.

A computer simulation of the planned fish farm. Via Nordic Aquafarms

​Nordic has assisted CR in developing a $2 million Department of Labor grant application for a new aquaculture education program.

​Mayer said high school students will also be offered aquaculture courses “to get them a leg up in matriculating to College of the Redwoods.”

​At CR, students will be able to opt for one-year aquaculture certificates or two-year associate degrees. With the degrees, students can transfer to Humboldt State University to expand their education under the university’s Fisheries Biology department.

​CR plans to hire an aquaculture faculty member and lab coordinator this spring, develop an aquaculture classroom, learning lab and curriculum, and start the program in 2022.

​Answering a question about numbers of jobs in aquaculture and wages, Mayer said the northern California region is expected to have 30 annual aquaculture job openings with median hourly wages ranging from $23 to $80 an hour.

​“The state recommended that we move forward with this program – they felt that there will be sufficient jobs available in the northern California region to support an aquaculture program at the community college level,” Mayer said.

​Marianne Naess, Nordic’s co-founder and commercial director, said the college courses won’t be a prerequisite to working at the new facility as “we need different kinds of skills and have different kinds of positions.”

​But she added that the presence of CR, HSU and other schools is part of the reason why the company chose to locate in Humboldt.

​“We’re excited about this and have had a good dialogue,” she said.

​Naess said the company has a “database of interested applicants and we’re happy to talk to anyone that’s interested.”

Over 100 jobs will be involved in a planned first phase of operation in 2024 and there will be 150 jobs when a second phase is launched a year later.

​Building the facility will open 250 to 300 jobs.

​The project has been met with local enthusiasm but a similar facility being permitted in Belfast, Maine has encountered controversy. One questioner asked for a response to the Maine chapter of the Sierra Club’s contention that an environmental review for that project is incomplete.

​Ed Cotter, a Nordic project manager, said that issue was raised last spring but “questions that have been brought up through that have been answered at length through the regulatory process.”

He added that aspects of the Maine project have been “mischaracterized” which has led to “misunderstandings about the project.”

​Cotter said other issues being debated are “site-specific” to the Maine project.

​One of them is the construction of discharge pipes. But in Humboldt, an outfall pipe extending 1.5-miles into the ocean already exists and the site is previously-developed and zoned for aquaculture.

The pulp mill that used to be there was a toxic industrial use that cloaked Eureka with malodorous smokestack emissions and left behind millions of gallons of chemical sludge.

​The site was cleaned up after the county’s Harbor District secured ownership. The district is leasing the site to Nordic, advancing the agency’s quest to transform the former toxic waste site into a revenue-producing jobs hub.

​Also included in the video meeting were presentations on Nordic’s multi-stage discharge filtration, tsunami mitigation measures and stormwater management.

 

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