Photo by: Bruce Warrington

Humboldt County may soon be the home of an industrial fish farm owned and operated by Nordic Aquafarms an international aquafarming firm based in Fredrikstad, Norway. While the fish farm is planned for an area outside the immediate boundaries of the Klamath River Basin, its installation and operation could impact the region’s economies and environmental health. The company’s plan to farm Atlantic Salmon in a facility on the Samoa Peninsula, if approved, would fund a large-scale environmental clean-up on the defunct pulp mill site and generate local jobs, but some community members and interest groups have raised concerns over the potential outcome of the project.

Nordic Aquafarms plans to install facilities to farm Atlantic Salmon as opposed to Chinook or Coho for specific reasons. The company seeks to provide Atlantic Salmon for local markets – this would theoretically reduce the number of resources needed to deliver Atlantic Salmon from overseas to consumers on the West Coast who already purchase large amounts of the fish while creating approximately 150 local jobs. The choice to farm Atlantic versus other species of salmon is a reflection of the company’s concern for the “sanctity of Chinook and Coho salmon to local tribes.

Nordic’s plan is to install a closed aquafarming system that will allow operators to raise female-only fish from egg to adulthood without the need for antibiotics. The use of antibiotics in fish farming is one of the issues that fisheries and environmental groups have historically opposed. The concern being that antibiotic-saturated runoff will make its way into waterways and impact the ecological health of the regions in which fish farms are operated. The closed system methods used by Nordic are also designed to ensure that farmed fish do not escape into the wild where they could disrupt the gene pools of native fish populations. The facility is designed to keep pathogens out and fish in.

To address the concerns of the public, Nordic has performed a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR) that, once made available for public review, will be followed by a 45-day window for public comment wherein residents and special interests groups can voice their concerns. The EIR goes above and beyond regulatory parameters required by the California Environmental Quality Act and was performed, according to Nordic’s executive vice-president of commercial operations Marianne Naess, in response to resident’s requests. Thus far, Nordic Aquafarms has operated with considerable transparency. They are clearly trying to continue with facility installation but with the approval of as much of the Humboldt County community as possible.

Despite these precautionary measures and engineering plans, some residents are still trepidatious about the proposed project. Two public scoping meetings earlier this year offered residents and organizations an opportunity to voice their concerns. These included apprehensions about what the fish in the facility would be fed and where that feed would come from, as well as concerns about the amount of fresh and salt water required, and the potential for additional greenhouse gas emissions related to the facility’s use of diesel generators during power outages.

Though Nordic Aquafarms has made headway in gaining approval from the residents of Humboldt County, the public continues to express concerns over the long-term impacts of this kind of development in an area already impacted by environmental degradation caused by previous development projects. We will have to wait and see how residents and interest groups respond to the Environmental Impact Report in coming months.