A rendering shows the Kingfish Maine aquaculture facility that has been proposed for construction in Jonesport. Photo courtesy of Kingfish Maine

A proposed $110 million aquaculture facility in Jonesport faces a potential obstacle as opponents mount a legal challenge to the town’s approval of the project.

A group of local residents and businesses, Protect Downeast, filed a complaint April 6 asking Washington County Superior Court to review the Jonesport Planning Board’s decision last fall. Kingfish Maine Inc., a subsidiary of Dutch aquaculture company Kingfish Zeeland, was seeking an OK under the town’s zoning ordinance to build the aquaculture facility on 93 acres of land near Chandler Bay.

If built as planned, the plant would cultivate up to 17 million pounds of yellowtail kingfish annually using a recirculating water system. Protect Downeast claims the facility will pollute the bay, harm marine habitats and negatively affect local fisheries.

But rather than appealing the town’s decision based on environmental concerns, Protect Downeast says in its complaint that the Jonesport Planning Board made an error in how it reached its conclusion.

The Kingfish Maine facility would be in a limited residential zone where aquaculture uses are permitted, but commercial and industrial uses are not. The board considers the development an aquaculture use, while Protect Downeast said the facility is clearly for commercial and industrial use. Elizabeth Boepple, the attorney representing Protect Downeast, said the group considers the error a matter of misunderstanding town ordinances and how to apply them to a complicated project.

“As often happens, our local planning boards struggle to review projects of significant size,” she said in an interview. Boepple likened it to how some small towns grappled applying their municipal laws to the New England Clean Energy Connect power line corridor.


Megan Sorby, operations manager of Kingfish Maine, believes that the legal system will favor the company, and that the town and its residents support the project.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have issued Kingfish Maine other needed regulatory approvals in what Sorby said was an “extremely thorough” process. The DEP previously denied appeals of its decision by other conservation groups.


The Kingfish Maine project is one of several proposed aquaculture developments in Maine that are dealing with setbacks, legal obstacles and pushback from opposition groups.

On Friday, the proposed Nordic Aquafarms project in Belfast was sent back to the DEP for review. That followed a Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruling that rejected claims to an intertidal area that would connect the facility with Penobscot Bay.

In early 2022, residents in Jonesport voted 201-91 to reject a proposed moratorium on development of commercial aquaculture facilities within the town – a measure Sorby said would have affected Kingfish Maine’s future there.


Protect Downeast wasn’t behind that moratorium, but supported it after the group was created in March 2022, according to Boepple. Organization members are concerned about fundamental environmental problems with the project, Boepple said.

“We think that the state of Maine has completely abrogated its responsibility for truly assessing these kinds of impacts. They got on board with industrial aquaculture without assessing its true impact. I think the Gov. Mills administration saw this as an opportunity to bring jobs, bring jobs, bring jobs. Well as with so many other things, they have failed to truly assess environmental impact.”

Kingfish, for its part, maintains that there will be ongoing water quality monitoring with baseline studies – a condition in the town’s approval of the project – to ensure that the aquaculture facility is not harming the bay.

Jonesport Selectman Harry Fish Jr. resents the assertion that the planning board misinterpreted town ordinances.

“This wasn’t a bunch of bumbling joes from Jonesport that made this decision,” Fish said. “That’s the implication, saying that Jonesport isn’t smart enough to be able to figure this out. We spent an awful lot of money on lawyers to be sure that we did it right the first time.”

Sorby agrees, and believes that the vote against the moratorium is a sign that locals want this project and the economic development that it could bring in.


And the town is backing the aquaculture company, Fish said, because the facility can bring in more jobs with benefits, increase the town’s valuations and lower the town’s mill rate.

“Towns have the ability to choose for themselves and Jonesport chose Kingfish as much as Kingfish chose Jonesport,” Sorby added.

What happens next and when are still unclear.

Kingfish could theoretically break ground anytime now, according to Sorby, but the company plans to respect the appeal process before moving forward.

“We hope to start construction as soon as possible, but … we’re committed to seeing the appeal process through and based on some of that, our board will make decisions about moving forward,” Sorby said.

The company is also focused on working with the University of Maine Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research. Last week, Kingfish Maine harvested its first small batch of yellowtail broodfish to lay eggs for the Jonesport facility at the center in Franklin.

Yellowtail kingfish refers to several species of tuna-like fish that have become enormously popular with chefs and consumers of sushi.

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