EASTPORT (AP) – A Canadian company plans to invest $60 million in Maine’s salmon farming industry, which has fallen on tough times in recent years.

Cooke Aquaculture of Blacks Harbour, New Brunswick, which claims to be the only company currently farming salmon in the state, said it intends to use the money to stock salmon in eastern Maine waters over the next 18 months.

Glenn Cooke, chief executive officer, said he hopes to reopen a plant in Maine next year to process the growing stocks of salmon.

“We still are trying to figure out exactly what building and where these fish will be processed,” Cooke said Tuesday at the Marine Trades Center of Washington County Community College in Eastport.

Cooke Aquaculture employs 1,000 people in Canada and the U.S., including 80 in Maine, a figure that stands to increase with the new investment.

Gov. John Baldacci joined Cooke at the announcement and praised the family-owned company and its plans.

“This company was named one of the top 50 best managed companies in Canada. This company is committed to the resource and to this region and to the state of Maine,” he said. “We couldn’t have a better partnership.”

The state’s salmon farming industry took a hit a few years ago when infectious salmon anemia led to the destruction of millions of pounds of fish.

Since 2004, Cooke has acquired other aquaculture operations, buying up assets of Atlantic Salmon of Maine, Heritage Salmon and Marine Harvest, which had merged a few months earlier with Stolt Sea Farms.

Cooke maintains several salmon hatcheries in Maine. It now has 10 operational aquaculture sites stocked with salmon in the Eastport and Machiasport areas. The company said that by fall, it will have introduced more than 3 million smolt into its salmon farms.

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