Get On Board For The Climate: Proceeding with Caution

by Martha Walden for 350 Humboldt


Like everything else, aquaculture has its benefits and drawbacks. At a time when fisheries are collapsing around the world due to pressures on their wild stock, the ability to farm fish has undeniable appeal. Whether or not aquaculture exacerbates or relieves those pressures is another question — one I cannot try to answer. What I want to summarize here is the potential carbon footprint of the facility Nordic Aquaculture has proposed for the Samoa Peninsula. 

The former pulp mill property on the Samoa Peninsula is currently home to deteriorating infrastructure (left), but Norwegian company, Nordic Aquafarms, plans to build a land-based fish farm onsite, as shown in this conceptual drawing (right). Images courtesy of Nordic Aquafarms.

In the Initial Study / Mitigated Negative Declarations statement, Nordic has determined that its energy demand will be “less than significant.” If this confidence is based on the solar array proposed for the site, it’s a mistake — maybe even a typo. Electricity produced on site will not supply the projected 33% of what is needed — more like 3.3%. Also, the declared amount of needed electricity — 21 MW — seems too small for a project of that size. The proposed facility is significantly larger than Nordic’s facility in Belfast, Maine, which operates in exactly the same way. It uses 28 MW. Comparing the scale of the two projects suggests that the proposed facility could use about 35 MW. 

Can PG&E — the primary producer of local electricity — deliver that amount of additional power and still meet its obligation of 100% renewable in 2045? If, as we hope, an offshore wind farm is built this decade in partnership with Redwood Coast Energy Authority, then the problem could be handily solved. So far, Nordic has not committed to using that future electricity, nor has it committed to the goal of carbon neutrality.

Transport adds significantly to the carbon footprint. Feeding the salmon involves catching other fish and processing them into fishmeal that is shipped to Canada to be processed into its final form and then shipped here. Transporting the finished product requires refrigerated truck traffic. Plus, a waste product referred to as “sludge” would require transportation to a composting facility — perhaps in Marysville, CA. 

Refrigeration and air conditioning, major components of Nordic’s operation, entail refrigerants with potentially high global warming impacts. The new federal legislation that limits GWP to 150 (holds one hundred fifty times more heat than carbon dioxide) for new units will not go into effect until the first day of 2022. It certainly wouldn’t behoove Nordic to try to slip under the wire. Still, this requirement should be spelled out because the wrong choice of refrigerants could drastically increase its greenhouse gases in the event of a major leak. Optimum would be Nordic committing to using natural refrigerants such as butane, carbon dioxide or ammonia. Those have the lowest GWP of all. 

Producing food is arguably humankind’s biggest priority, and there’s no such thing as a free lunch. But the issue of GHG emissions sharply defines our future on a planet that has been pushed too close to its limits. We may hope that Nordic will take the long view when it comes to climate, but no corporation has an internal directive beyond maximizing its profits. The detailed response from Humboldt’s environmental community has alerted Nordic to the necessity of preparing a full-on Environmental Impact Report. That will be a very long document.