Cooke Aquaculture has agreed to pay more than $150,000 to the state as part of an agreement to resolve violations found at multiple net pen sites across Maine.
Among several violations identified by state regulators, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection says the company exceeded fish density limits in its net pens, didn’t provide complete annual stocking notices on time, and didn’t properly sample for sulfides in facilities it operates off the coast of Maine.
To resolve the violations, Cooke will pay more than $156,000 to fund a new, state-led program that company officials say will raise about 900 native Atlantic salmon in ocean net pens, then deliver them to the Machias River when they reach adulthood.
“The disappearance of Atlantic salmon poses a real environmental issue and threatens the culture, history and economy of Maine and Tribal communities. Survival of the species depends on human intervention, new thinking and the collaboration of dedicated project partners,” said Cooke Aquaculture spokesperson Joel Richardson in a statement.
Dwayne Shaw, the executive director of the Downeast Salmon Federation, says that while his organization has concerns about net-pen aquaculture, he believes the new project could be a promising solution to restoring the salmon population in the river, and hopes to see it continue. “So we are fundraising to continue this for a number of years in order to assess whether it can actually work.”
“I believe this is a good solution,” Shaw says. “And, ultimately, of course, the aquaculture industry needs to stay in compliance with the law.”
To resolve the violations, Cooke officials are also required to train staff on proper sample collection, handling and documentation at its facilities.
The consent agreement isn’t related to a recent complaint to state regulators regarding hidden-camera footage recorded by an animal rights group appearing to show workers mishandling salmon at a hatchery in Bingham.