Nordic AquaFarms proposes to build a land-based fish farm at the former Samoa pulp mill that they say would use a mixture of fresh and salt water to raise 33,000 tons of fish (what species is not known), discharging 7.7 million gallons of effluent daily through the existing 1½-mile long ocean outfall. Remodeling the former pulp mill would include sampling soil for contamination and removing the smokestack and other unused structures at the site, along with other improvements.

Click HERE for our statement on the proposed land-based fish farm. We will continue to research and review Nordic AquaFarms’ proposal as new information is made available, and will keep our members and the community informed of opportunities for input.

With a “huge” price tag looming over infrastructure problems at the Samoa Peninsula, a representative from Nordic Aquafarms said Wednesday the company’s plan to build a large fish farm at the site could be in trouble if the quagmire remains unaddressed.

“The county’s recognizing this project is — I’m not saying it’s in jeopardy, but it potentially is, if we don’t solve this problem,” said Lynette Mullen, Nordic Aquafarms’ community liaison in Humboldt County.

Local surface water needed for Nordic’s proposed fish farm can be highly turbid, or murky, during the winter months, and the cost of treating it could range into the double-digit millions. Meanwhile, the defunct Samoa pulp mills left behind hazardous waste, turning portions of the site into a toxic brownfield.

Without a locally driven solution, Nordic will be left to convince investors the costs involved in mitigating these factors are worth it, Mullen explained. And while Humboldt County has called on a task force to look into the issues — with a staff update coming in 45 days — Mullen emphasized urgency.

“I can tell you that … we ain’t going to pay,” said Dennis Mayo of the McKinleyville Community Services District. He explained that his district is billed for water by the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District, which manages the water infrastructure for the Samoa site. “If you’re counting on (us)? You can forget it.”

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If everything goes as planned, fresh fish raised in tanks on the now blighted former pulp mill site will be making its way across the West Coast in four years, opening up new avenues for economic development in a region still reeling from downturns in the once mainstay lumber and fishing industries.

At least that is the realistic best hope of officials with Nordic Aquafarms, the Norwegian company behind the proposed land-based facility that looks to ultimately produce some 25,000 tons of farmed fish a year here on the North Coast. 

The clock was set in motion Feb. 11 with the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District's decision to sign a 30-year lease with Nordic amid concerns that the deal was ushered through without public input.

Humboldt County is poised to become a hub for aquaculture, as the Harbor District has approved a lease for a Norway-based company that aims to build a fish farm on the Samoa Peninsula.  

The district’s Board of Commissioners approved a 30-year lease with a subsidiary of Nordic Aquafarms on February 11, in a closed session special meeting followed by a public hearing.  

The Humboldt Baykeeper advocacy group has indicated that it will monitor the project and comment on it as it takes form. For now, the group has questioned the short timing between the lease’s approval and its prior public announcement.  

Baykeeper’s staff met with Nordic Aquafarms before the lease approval and Jen Kalt, the group’s director, said the proposal is formative.  

“They’ve said that they won’t grow Atlantic salmon, they won’t grow GMO fish and they won’t use antibiotics,” she continued. “But they’re not sure what fish they’re going to raise so they can’t point to the source of the fish stock or anything like that – there’s really nothing specific, it’s vague at this point.”  

Baykeeper’s focus of concern will be on ocean discharge but “we haven’t had time to go into the details on that because this has come up so suddenly,” said Kalt. 

Nordic Aquafarms will now work to gain ground on public interaction. The company’s representatives were in town for the entire week following the lease approval and Kalt said a meeting with Baykeeper and member groups of the Northcoast Environmental Center was set. 

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On February 11, the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation, & Conservation District voted unanimously to approve a $20,000/year, 3-year “Option Period” for the company to secure all the necessary permits, and a 30-year lease agreement with two 10-year options for its former pulp mill site in Samoa, giving Nordic AquaFarms / California Marine Investments, LLC site control while it develops plans and pursues permits for a land-based fish farm. 

Despite assurances that their goal is "full disclosure," the Harbor District did not provide the lease agreement in advance of Monday's public hearing, which was announced Friday afternoon, unnecessarily creating a climate of distrust rather than an opportunity for meaningful public input.

Photo of the site in 2014 by Jennifer Savage, Surfrider Foundation.

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