Diagram via the Planning Commission’s executive summary.


Three and a half years after Nordic Aquafarms announced plans to build a massive land-based fish farm on the Samoa Peninsula, the project is finally coming before the Humboldt County Planning Commission tonight. Backers are seeking certification of the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and the approval of two key permits.

The Norway-based aquaculture company, which underwent an abrupt change in leadership earlier this month, needs both a Coastal Development Permit and a Special Permit to move forward with the development, which involves the demolition and remediation of the defunct Samoa Pulp Mill facility followed by construction of a 766,530-square-foot recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) facility.

The project will also require separate permits from the California Coastal Commission and the Northcoast Regional Water Quality Control Board for bay intake and ocean outfall infrastructure.

The Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District will apply for a permit to draw approximately 10 million gallons per day of saltwater out of Humboldt Bay via modernized intake infrastructure called sea chests. The regional water board must issue the permit for the daily discharge of 12.5 million gallons of treated wastewater via an existing ocean outfall pipe that extends a mile and a half offshore.

Meanwhile, the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District has agreed to provide 2.5 million gallons of freshwater and industrial water per day, sourced from the Mad River.

The Coastal Commission must sign off on both the intake and outfall aspects of the project’s infrastructure, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife must approve the production of Atlantic salmon.

Jacqueline Cassida, a community liaison for Nordic based in Maine, where Nordic is pursuing a similar facility, told the Outpost via email Thursday that “both the Coastal Commission and the Regional Water Board are waiting until the EIR is certified before they move forward in their process.”

Still, tonight’s hearing represents a monumental step for the ambitious fish farm project, which is expected to produce up to 27,000 metric tons of gutted, head-on Atlantic salmon and fillets each year for distribution to markets up and down the West Coast. 

Since the endeavor was first announced in early 2019, Harbor District commissioners, county supervisors and the business community have all been bullish on the economic development potential. The company’s latest estimates put the project cost at roughly $650 million, and it’s expected to create up to 130 jobs by the time Phase 2 buildout is completed in 2030.

And virtually everyone is excited about the prospect of seeing further cleanup and remediation of the crumbling pulp mill property.

But plenty of folks in the community still have reservations. Perhaps foremost among them are environmental concerns over the project’s water intake impacts, its nutrient-rich wastewater discharge and its massive projected energy consumption. At full build-out, the fish farm is expected to have an electricity demand of 22.3 megawatts (averaged out over a year), or 195 gigawatt hours of energy per year, which would account for roughly 21 percent of the county’s total electricity usage.

Under pressure from environmental groups, Nordic officials committed to using 100 percent renewable electricity, though the details of acquiring that clean energy have yet to be hashed out. Facility plans include a 4.8 megawatt solar array mounted on building rooftops, covering about 657,000 square feet.

Other concerns expressed in public comments include the sourcing and ingredients of fish feed as well as the source of Atlantic salmon eggs. Nordic has agreed to implement a mitigation monitoring and reporting plan.

The Final Environmental Impact Report, prepared for the county by local engineering firm GHD and released to the public about a month ago, finds that there are no significant unavoidable environmental impacts that can’t be mitigated to a less-than-significant level.

The Planning Commission meeting is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. in board chambers at the Humboldt County courthouse. The only other item on the meeting agenda is a discussion about whether or not to send a letter to the Board of Supervisors regarding water storage requirements for cannabis projects.

Still, it’s quite possible the commission won’t wrap up its decision-making process at tonight’s meeting. If that’s the case, the hearing will be continued to a meeting one week hence, on August 4.