Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Salmon in the Bay?

Well, not really in the Bay, but being grown in the watershed. Bay Journal, Maryland regulators tentatively approve wastewater permit for massive salmon farm

A proposed indoor salmon farm on Maryland’s Eastern Shore is poised to clear a key regulatory hurdle over critics’ fears that its discharges will threaten the state’s only Atlantic sturgeon spawning grounds.

The Maryland Department of the Environment has issued a tentative permit that would allow the salmon-rearing facility to discharge up to 2.3 million gallons a day of treated “purge” water into Marshyhope Creek, a tributary of the Nanticoke River.


The Marshyhope is the only waterway in Maryland known to harbor spawning sturgeon. The long, bony-looking fish are federally classified as endangered along most of the East Coast, including the Chesapeake Bay region.

It’s the first of several permits that AquaCon, the Norwegian aquaculture company proposing the salmon farm, needs to begin construction. Others include water appropriation, stormwater, and wetlands and waterways, as well as an aquaculture permit from the state Department of Natural Resources.

An AquaCon official said the company has gone to great lengths to ensure that the wastewater discharges don’t upend the Marshyhope’s ecosystem.

“We have spent more than one year with MDE on the permit terms,” said Henrik Tangen, executive chairman and president of AquaCon. The state’s discharge conditions, he said in an email, “are significantly more stringent than comparable terms for other similar facilities [worldwide], U.S. included, taking all local environmental issues into consideration.”

The company, which went public with its plans in 2020, aims to raise fish inside a $300 million, 25-acre building in an industrial park on the outskirts of Federalsburg, a small town in rural Caroline County. According to AquaCon’s website, it’s one of four such facilities that the company hopes to build in Maryland to supply the Mid-Atlantic region with the popular fish.

Concerns for sturgeon

By AquaCon’s own calculations, discharges from the Federalsburg facility would compose up to 15% of the Marshyhope’s water flow. Several environmentalists say the creek is too small to absorb that much wastewater.

“We’re really strongly opposed to this,” said Judith Stribling, a retired Salisbury University biology professor and former president of the Friends of the Nanticoke River. “The notion of salmon aquaculture is admirable, and the objective of producing good, quality food that would in most places not have a serious impact on the environment seems like a good one. But this location could not be worse.”

Environmentalists point to several issues with the wastewater. Among them: It will be colder than the water in the surrounding river during the summer, potentially upsetting the spawning season; the purged water could contain diseases and chemicals harmful to aquatic life; and any change in the stream’s salinity or other water chemistry could affect sturgeon spawning.

The wastewater would enter the creek just upstream of the MD Route 313/318 bridge. That would put the discharge just outside the portion of the Marshyhope designated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s fisheries unit as critical habitat for sturgeon. The bridge marks the classification’s upstream boundary.

Still, sturgeon have been documented swimming in the creek above the bridge, according to state surveys.

I'm a little torn by this. I don't think the Chesapeake Bay area, with our hot summers are likely to be a good place to raise salmon, but apparently large volumes of cool well water make it practical.  Having "waste water" substantially cooler than the water it is to be discharged to is an unusual problem, but one that would seem to be easily solved with some heat exchangers with the air (which is plenty warm on the Eastern Shore in summer).

Salmon do get an entry or two in the classic book "Fishes of the Chesapeake Bay" (I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites). Atlantic Salmon have strayed into the mouth of Chesapeake Bay in winter, and a lone Chinook Salmon was once caught in a Virginia tributary. God only knows how that happened.

The Wombat has Late Night With Rule 5 Sunday: Komi Shuuko  primed and powdered and ready for battle.


  1. I surprised they are promoting a salmon farm on Chesepeake Bay. I am not a big fan of farmed salmon in general, and it can impact other fish (usually other wild salmon in terms of disease exposure, paracites, etc.).

    I would be surprised, however, it having such a negative impact on sturgeon--which as a fish species can bear huge swings in water temp, O2 levels, salinity, etc. Sturgeon are amazingly tough fish--but what they can't bounce back from easily is spawning habitat loss (such as dams blocking acccess) and over fishing.

  2. Interesting system? But what are they going to feed those atlantic salmon? They don't eat corn like catfish. They have to feed them protein--and I am guessing local bunker and other bait fish. That will have an impact on bluefish and stripers.