Proposed Discharge Permit for Aquacon’s Salmon Factory Should Be Denied

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is urging Maryland’s Department of the Environment (MDE) to deny the draft discharge permit for AquaCon’s proposed land-based salmon facility near Federalsburg.

The Norwegian company AquaCon has pitched the state on a plan to raise about 16,500 tons of salmon per year at a 25-acre indoor facility. However, the initial discharge permit proposed by MDE for this massive operation is grossly deficient and represents a significant environmental risk to the surrounding area and Marshyhope Creek.

The permit would enable AquaCon to discharge 2.3 million gallons of salmon-tainted purge water into Marshyhope Creek per day—risking the state’s only known spawning habitat for endangered Atlantic sturgeon.

Deficiencies in MDE’s draft permit include:

  • The permit does not address stormwater impacts from what would be one of the largest buildings in Maryland.
  • AquaCon is not required to submit contingency plans for catastrophic events like mass fish die-offs or fires, which have happened at the limited number of other land-based mass salmon production facilities.
  • There is no analysis of how geosmin, the off-tasting compound AquaCon wants to purge from salmon into the Marshyhope, would affect the sensitive ecosystem of the creek or endangered Atlantic sturgeon. Other analysis of the purge water, such as its temperature, ammonia levels, nutrient pollution content, pH, and salinity is not provided by MDE.
  • MDE approved AquaCon to exceed nutrient pollution limits for Marshyhope Creek without clear and specific offset requirements as required by law. The Marshyhope is already impaired by sediment, nitrogen, and phosphorus pollution due to current agricultural and other uses in the area, according to the state’s analysis.
  • MDE does not examine how allowing AquaCon to withdraw 2.3 million gallons from underground aquifers would affect nearby farming or other uses and if such large withdrawals could cause the land to sink.
  • Requirements in the draft permit are partly based on a permit granted for a salmon production facility in Maine. That facility, which has not been built, proposes to discharge into Penobscot Bay, a much larger and colder waterbody than the Marshyhope. Because the Maine facility is not operational, Maryland regulators have no ability to determine whether the permit conditions used as a surrogate for the draft AquaCon permit are effective. 
  • MDE’s draft permit may enable AquaCon to bypass federal protections for Atlantic sturgeon by allowing purge water to be discharged along the shoreline just outside the designated critical sturgeon habitat area in the Marshyhope, despite studies tracking sturgeon upstream of the discharge area.

In response to the permit deficiencies, CBF’s Eastern Shore Director Alan Girard issued the following statement:

“MDE has not provided essential details about how this proposed permit will protect water quality and wildlife. The draft permit lacks critical scientific information, uses untested out-of-state regulations as a surrogate for oversight, and allows Chesapeake Bay pollution to increase without explaining how the new loads will be offset. The Marshyhope is home to the Atlantic sturgeon, but MDE has not verified that the discharge will not fatally impact this iconic endangered species. MDE should deny this permit.”

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A.J. Metcalf

Former Maryland Media & Communications Coordinator, CBF

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