AUGUSTA (AP) – The Maine Board of Environmental Protection on Thursday approved environmental permitting standards for most of the state’s salmon farming industry, which has operated for years without the required permits.

The permits, mandated under the U.S. Clean Water Act, will require the Down East farms to monitor water quality and the health of the sea floor.

Salmon farms will also be forced to take steps to prevent fish escapes, follow guidelines for the use of drugs to control fish disease and phase in costly protections for endangered wild Atlantic salmon.

Sebastian Belle, director of the Maine Aquaculture Association, said he’s pleased the environmental standards have been settled.

“There’s lots of parts of the permit that we don’t like,” he added. “We can and will have to live with this permit. … If we can’t find a way to live with it, then five years from now, you will see a very different aquaculture industry.”

Conservationists, meanwhile, said the some of the standards are too lenient. “It’s good that we finally have a permit with some standards in place,” said Roger Fleming of the Conservation Law Foundation in Rockland. “But we’re disappointed with some provisions, especially the endangered species provisions.”

Those standards are intended to keep escaped farmed salmon from threatening the survival of the endangered wild salmon population. Farmed fish that escape and interbreed with wild fish weaken the population’s ability to reproduce and grow. The new permits will require farmers to mark or tag their fish.

so that escaped fish can be traced back to their owners. A requirement that farm sites be identified on the tags was delayed for additional study.

The permit standards also require companies to phase out the use of European salmon to breed hybrid fish that grow faster in the pens. Scientists say non-North American fish that escape are especially dangerous to the wild population.

Maine’s salmon farming industry has been sued by environmental groups for not having the permits, which are now expected be issued beginning this fall.

U.S. District Judge Gene Carter has ordered Maine’s two largest salmon farmers, Atlantic Salmon of Maine and Stolt Sea Farm, to stop using the hybrid fish immediately. The companies are appealing the order.

AP-ES-06-20-03 0216EDT

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