A 2018 artist’s rendering of the Nordic Aquafarms facility proposed for construction beside Little River in Belfast. Image courtesy of Nordic Aquafarms

The rumor mill has been churning with speculation about the viability of Nordic Aquafarms, a proposed $500 million fish farm in Belfast facing relentless pushback. Is Nordic, the land-based aquaculture developer, planning to abandon the project? Is the company redesigning the project altogether to avoid future hurdles?

Despite the speculation and doubts, Nordic has reaffirmed its commitment to seeing the project through.

Nordic Aquafarms has poured millions of dollars into fighting legal challenges to its proposed fish farm, suffering a series of setbacks in a battle that has dragged on for five years. Still, Nordic believes the project has a viable future. The company says the fish farm will bring Belfast new jobs and economic development. And Nordic believes that the outcome of its project could have an impact on the future of the aquaculture industry in Maine.

“Maine is on the precipice of increasing aquaculture opportunities,” said Jacki Cassida, Nordic’s spokesperson. “Unfortunately, Maine has also seen companies come and take a look and see what we’ve been struggling with and moved their opportunities to other states on the East Coast.

“One of our driving forces is to break that barrier. … If we can break through that and make Maine a place where this can happen, I think that there’s so much more potential for us as a state.”

The company’s project, however, is already years behind schedule. And with legal cases still in flux, it’s impossible to predict when the facility could start producing salmon for the market.



Nordic, a Norwegian land-based aquaculture developer, has been trying to build a $500 million, 55-acre salmon farm in Belfast since 2018. It would be one of the world’s largest land-based salmon farms, raising Atlantic salmon in large onsite tanks. The company envisioned breaking ground in 2019 to have the facility up and running in 2020.

But opponents swiftly took action because of concerns that the facility will have negative environmental impacts, pollute Penobscot Bay, overwhelm local infrastructure and infringe on the rights of a conservation easement owned by neighbors.

The project has been tied up in court ever since. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court issued two rulings this year that have hindered Nordic’s ability to move forward. In February, the state’s highest court ruled that mud flats Nordic needs access to for pumping water in from and out to Penobscot Bay are owned by a neighboring couple who oppose the fish farm.

The state’s high court ruled against Nordic again in August when it decided that Upstream Watch, an environmental conservation nonprofit opposing the project, has standing to appeal municipal permits issued for the project. That process is still tied up in Belfast, where Upstream Watch is planning to argue its case before the zoning board of appeals in early 2024. Upstream Watch also is appealing the permits Nordic received from the Maine Board of Environmental Protection.

There haven’t been any court decisions that have deterred Nordic altogether, but the company is feeling the pain of losing access to the waterfront.


“That was the biggest blow,” Cassida said. “It was the single element that put the brakes on. But we just have to work through that.”

Nordic is still trying to secure access to the mudflats. In 2021, the city of Belfast seized the mudflats land by eminent domain to bypass a conflict over who owned that land and how Nordic could access it. A legal case to block that seizure, which is separate from the case the Supreme Judicial Court ruled on in February, is pending.

Meanwhile, Nordic’s permitting process also has taken a step backward. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection suspended Nordic’s permits because of the pending cases. And until Nordic can prove it has the right to use those mudflats, the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands rescinded its leases with Nordic, which are needed to install the inflow and outflow pipes.

In these last five years, Nordic has spent “millions” on legal expenses, Cassida said, though she could not provide an exact figure.


Maine has a rich aquaculture industry growing by the year. The production and profit from Maine’s aquaculture harvest doubled from 2014 to 2022, according to the Maine International Trade Center. In 2019, nonprofit SEA Maine determined that Maine’s aquaculture harvesting added $198 million to the economy.


But like Nordic Aquafarms, other large-scale fish-farm developers have dealt with drawn-out setbacks because of local opposition. Residents and businesses in Jonesport have similarly challenged permits, with one appeal still pending in court. Meanwhile, a land-based salmon-farm developer auctioned off its Gouldsboro facility in June after facing pushback over concerns the project would harm Maine’s lobstering industry.

That’s in part why Nordic is trying to navigate the obstacles. It needs to grow that first batch of fish, Cassida said, because the company wants to show the international aquaculture industry that a future for large-scale fish farming in Maine is possible.

“There are other projects in Maine that already exist in terms of onshore aquaculture. Why not us?” Cassida said. “For those other companies that are out there trying, we feel like we all need to be a unified front. I think that there’s so much more potential for us as a state.”

Nordic also feels strongly about how Belfast can benefit through economic development. Nordic anticipates the construction phase will create 200 to 300 jobs, Cassida said. There would be 140 jobs once the facility is completed, the company said in 2018.

The city of Belfast has been all in on the fish farm and those benefits, committing as a partner through the eminent domain seizure and subsequent lawsuit. Belfast Mayor Eric Sanders said in March that the city still feels “confident” about its attempt to acquire the land for Nordic and help get the project to the finish line.

Mike Hurley, a long-time city councilor until November, still remains a supporter, despite the pushback and what he said have been impacts on his friendships with some people in town. That’s in part because of the property tax revenue Nordic would bring in to the city, potentially lowering rates for residents.


“If this wasn’t the biggest thing in a 1,000 years in terms of tax benefits, do you think I would really support it? What was in it for me, for the city? Nothing but a pain,” Hurley said. “The city tries to lower people’s taxes if possible. … But we put our faith and our trust in the Department of Environmental Protection.”

Even so, Hurley admits that Nordic made a mistake that by choosing the Belfast property without certainty that it had secured access to the waterfront. Cassida did not respond to questions about whether Nordic erred in that judgment.


Despite the commitment, some are skeptical about Nordic’s future in Belfast.

To Upstream Watch, the challenger to the municipal permit, Nordic faces an insurmountable task. Executive Director Jill Howell said that Nordic faces too many obstacles for the project to be worth seeing through.

“All of the hurdles that they would still need to clear to get to the point to be able to build this are, we think, pretty insurmountable,” Howell said. “We think it’s going to end with them closing up shop and leaving.”


Howell sees access to Penobscot Bay as Nordic’s largest challenge. However, Upstream Watch doesn’t believe Nordic is past the point of redemption.

“If they had a proposal that was markedly different, we would evaluate it again, like we did the first one. We’re not necessarily against any specific industry or company,” Howell said.

Nordic has the capability to find solutions to roadblocks such as access to the bay, Cassida said.

“There’s always a reason to consider other ideas and options,” Cassida said. “If (the solutions) make it a better project, yes, we’re always considering those things. If we have to go up the road, if we have to look at other ways of discharge or nondischarge, those are all options that we’re exploring.”

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