Marshyhope Creek, a tranquil tidal estuary on the east coast, is the only place in Maryland where sturgeon, an endangered species of fish that has existed since prehistoric times, are known to spawn. And environmentalists fear plans for a giant $300 million indoor salmon farm that would dump millions of gallons of water a day into the creek could mean the end of the sturgeon.
The fear stems from the release of cold and potentially salty water – salmon are a cold water species – into the warm freshwater stream that would upset the delicate balance needed for local fish to spawn. And they wonder if the state Department of Environment, which issued a draft permit for the water discharge, can successfully regulate such an operation.
The size of the building – 25 acres under one roof – is quite daunting. That’s over six Super Walmarts in an industrial park on the outskirts of Federalsburg in rural Caroline County. When fully operational, Norwegian company AquaCon plans to harvest 35 million pounds of salmon a year using recycled water and discharge more than two million gallons of sewage daily into the Marshyhope.
Lee Currey, director of the Maryland Department of Environment’s water and science division, told residents at a recent public hearing on the project that his office had “never dealt with anything like this. , and on this scale”.
This caught the attention of Al Girard, East Coast director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Girard called the project “uncharted territory,” not only because of the water spillage, but also because of the stormwater that pours off that giant roof.
“There are a lot of questions,” Girard said. “The MDE really needs to deny this permit and take several steps back to ensure that water quality is not damaged in Maryland.”
David Secor, a professor at the University of Maryland’s Solomons Center for Environmental Science laboratory, worries that a production facility of this size has never been tested anywhere.
“There is no track record in terms of management strategies and contingency plans,” said Secor.
MDE’s Currey said that while the department hasn’t dealt with anything of this size, there is a lot of information available on recirculating aquaculture systems and that his agency is “familiar with the quality standards of the water”.
Department officials are confident “that the limits we are proposing and the special conditions we have in the permit provide all the necessary safeguards,” he said.