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October 17 is the deadline for AquaCon permit comments!

What You Can Do About the Proposed Fish Factory in Federalsburg, Maryland:

1. Read the unanswered questions and news coverage below that describe the flaws in the Maryland Department of the Environment’s plans to protect the environment.

2. Send written comments to the Maryland Department of the Environment by 5:00 pm Monday, October 17.

Attn: Paul Hlavinka, Industrial Stormwater Permits Division

Maryland Department of the Environment, Water and Science Administration

1800 Washington Blvd., Ste. 455

Baltimore, MD 21230-1708


3. Share your concerns with local elected leaders.

Caroline County Commissioners

County Courthouse 109 Market Street, Room 123 Denton, MD 21629


Larry Porter

Wilbur Levengood

Daniel Franklin

Federalsburg Mayor and Town Council

118 N. Main Street

Federalsburg, MD 21632


Kimberly M. Jahnigen Abner

Debra V. Sewell

Scott Phillips

Robert Willoughby

Edward Windsor

4. Contact your representatives in the Maryland General Assembly.

Addie Eckardt (Republican, District 37)

James Senate Office Building, Room 322 11 Bladen St., Annapolis, MD 21401

(410) 841-3590

Chris Adams (Republican, District 37B)

Lowe House Office Building, Room 405 6 Bladen St., Annapolis, MD 21401

(410) 841-3343

Johnny Mautz (Republican, District 37B)

Lowe House Office Building, Room 424 6 Bladen St., Annapolis, MD 21401

(410) 841-3429

5. Write a Letter to the Editor.

The Daily Times

The Star Democrat

The Talbot Spy

Salisbury Independent

Washington Post

Baltimore Sun

Unanswered Questions About the Proposed Fish Factory in Federalsburg, MD:

The start-up Norwegian company AquaCon proposes to construct a building 25-acres in size in Federalsburg, MD to annually produce 17,500 tons of Atlantic salmon using recirculating aquaculture system technology. The experimental technology untested by the company at this scale is not shown to be safe and effective. Similar facilities owned by AquaCon’s competitors routinely experience mass die-offs of fish, and in one case, a catastrophic fire covered neighborhoods in smoke and caused toxic iron chloride to turn local waters red.

AquaCon has applied for a permit from the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE, application 21-DP-3867) to discharge 2.3 million gallons of wastewater per day into the environmentally sensitive Marshyhope Creek – more than twice the volume of wastewater discharged by all public treatment systems in Caroline County where the facility is proposed. The draft permit issued by the Department does not adequately explain how stormwater discharges will be controlled, water pollution will be managed, and impacts to the endangered Atlantic sturgeon will be prevented. The draft permit is grossly deficient due to the following unanswered questions:

1. How will stormwater be managed? This facility could generate more than 750,000 gallons of polluted runoff from just one inch of rain. The draft permit does not include conditions that will manage this discharge.

2. What research demonstrates that draft permit conditions are sufficient? Scientific estimates of the physical and chemical characteristics of the proposed discharge, including temperature, ammonia, nutrient content, pH, salinity, and pathogens, do not appear to inform the draft permit requirements. The impacts of the off-tasting compound geosmin planned to be purged from salmon in the discharge are not proposed to be managed in a way that protects water quality and wildlife. The draft permit inappropriately uses, as a surrogate, untested regulatory tools for an unbuilt facility in Maine that is planned to discharge to Penobscot Bay, a much colder, deeper, and larger waterbody than Marshyhope Creek.

3. How will temperature, salinity, and flow rates in Marshyhope Creek be maintained? Cold purge water discharged into the Marshyope where it is about 100 feet wide and wadable at low tide can affect the spawning cues and offspring growth and survival of endangered Atlantic sturgeon. The 2-degree Celsius thermal mixing zone requirement in the draft permit is arbitrary without information on temperature variations and their effects on water quality and wildlife. It’s unclear, for example, how the temperature of the effluent discharged at an average 1,600 gallons per minute will be made similar to temperatures in the Marshyhope when the river freezes. In addition, the salinity levels required to reduce stress in cultured salmon could fatally alter wildlife habitat requirements and make large segments of Marshyhope Creek uninhabitable for developing sturgeon eggs. The estimated 8 – 15% increase in river flow caused by the discharge does not account for seasonal variations that are expected to make actual flow rates higher.

4. What are the impacts of groundwater withdrawals? 2.3 million gallons of water per day are proposed to be withdrawn from the Upper Patapsco and surficial aquifers, yet MDE does not address whether groundwater supplies and existing uses can accommodate this level of withdrawal or could cause nearby land to sink. Surficial aquifers in the region are known to contribute as much as 70% of the total nitrogen load received by local waterways, but the draft permit does not set expectations for treating these nutrients prior to discharge.

5. How will pollution from solid waste be managed? The facility would generate several times the amount of feces produced by residents in the city of Annapolis but removed substance reporting requirements referenced in the draft permit do not ensure solid waste that leaves the facility will not harm local waters. The potential impacts from toxic hydrogen sulfide gas expected to be produced by the anerobic digestion of solid waste are not shown in the draft permit to be addressed.

6. How will federal endangered species protections be guaranteed? Recent research estimates the number of endangered Atlantic sturgeon that spawn in the Marshyhope at 40 individuals or less. Such a tiny population means that the species is on the knife-edge of vulnerability, with AquaCon’s effluent presenting an existential threat. Nowhere else in Maryland are sturgeon known to spawn, and the Marshyhope, portions of which are federally designated as critical habitat for the species, is believed to be the smallest river in the country where sturgeon exist. Small cobble beds that hold sturgeon eggs off the bottom are vulnerable to being covered up by silt and algae, known to increase from pollution generated from upland sources. The discharge that is proposed over shoreline riprap rather than through a diffuser pipe appears to be a purposeful evasion of federal permitting and Endangered Species Act requirements. The outfall, which an earlier proposal was planned to be located in the federally designated critical habitat area for sturgeon, is now sited just upstream from that area – a change that is not in the spirit of the rule. Scientists disagree with the Department’s siting justification that sturgeon are “strong swimmers and likely evade harm.”

7. How will the project not exceed Chesapeake Bay pollution load limits? The draft permit allows for discharging almost 700 pounds of nitrogen above the Bay’s Total Maximum Daily Load limits, but it does not explicitly state the pounds, time period, and trading geography where proposed offsets would be located – or the capacity and performance of the facility expected to receive those offsets – so that water quality is protected.

8. What happens if production systems fail? New facilities like this one have experienced catastrophic failures worldwide, but the draft permit requires no contingency for escapement or a mass die off event. The Atlantic Sapphire facility in Miami – the only company to have opened a land-based salmon operation in the U.S. – suffered two mass die-offs in 2020 and 2021 leading to about 600,000 salmon being wasted. The company’s other plant in Demark also suffered mass die-offs in July 2021, and in September of that year, a catastrophic fire totaled the facility.

9. Have scientists been consulted about the potential impacts? The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) whose mission is to preserve, protect, restore, and enhance the state’s natural resources, including its wildlife and habitats, is known to have written MDE twice in 2021 about the anticipated effects of the facility on local wildlife and water quality. The proposed requirements in the permit suggest that the concerns raised by DNR have either not been given full consideration by permit writers or were intentionally ignored.

Act Now - Save the Sturgeon
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Photo of the the Marshyhope Paddle on October 5 courtesy of Dave Harp. Above text courtesy of Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

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