There was not a spare seat in sight as residents packed into a presentation by Erik Heim, CEO of Nordic Aquafarms, at the Camden Yacht Club Aug. 15. Heim plans to open a $400 million land-based salmon farm in Belfast next year.

Heim said that the 100,000-square-foot facility would be built alongside Belfast's Little River; one of the reasons for choosing the site is its proximity to fresh water, which would be used in combination with salt water to raise the fish. Sited on 45 acres, the farming facility would have the capacity to produce 30,000 metric tons of fish per year.

"This project is on a very big location, will be buffered by greenery and will produce jobs … We want to merge the know-how and academic forces in Maine and Norway to create one of the most advanced sea farms and [to be] the biggest seafood exporter in the world," said Heim.

Born in Boston and raised in Norway, Heim founded Nordic Aquafarms in 2014. The company's website highlights its focus on "sustainable aquaculture," and Nordic Aquafarms is currently producing land-based seafood in Norway and Denmark. Heim said he chose Maine for the company's first U.S. location because of its similarity in water temperature and coastline to Norway, and he plans to move to the state with his wife and family in the coming months.

In a press release for Heim's Aug. 15 talk, which was one in a series of lectures hosted by the Yacht Club, Nordic Aquafarms estimates that the Belfast facility will offer as many as 140 jobs. Heim said that he sees no other option than land-based fish farming in the U.S., in order to a meet a consumer demand for animal protein that he said may double by 2050.

"Maine has the opportunity to take the lead in the U.S., but its seafood industry is fragmented," Heim said. He stressed the importance of marketing in the industry and explained the importance of branding "Maine seafood" in order to create value and demand among consumers worldwide.

Heim said he visited 20 properties throughout the state before deciding the Belfast property would be the ideal fit for the operation. He said the fish farm would feature solar paneling and other renewable energy technologies, and that he planned to maintain some of the site's original features, such as a picturesque brick building at a dam bordering the Little River. He said there had also been a discussion between Nordic and Ducktrap River of Maine about collaborating on the construction of an education center on the property.

The proposed facility would be far enough removed from the ocean, Heim said, that there was a very low risk of fish escaping, thereby protecting the wild salmon population. He said the facility would be discharging approximately 1 percent of nutrients, compared to sea-pen operations, and all byproducts would be recycled for potential value in the future.

As all production at the facility would take place indoors, Heim said, there would be no noise, nor offending odors, and at one point made reference to Belfast's history as a center for chicken farms. The salmon would be raised in an environment comprised of two-thirds sea water and one-third fresh water. The fish would be raised on a diet free of genetically modified ingredients, and the facility would discharge water from the operation into the ocean, one mile off shore.

Heim underscored the quality and quantity of fish the farm would be able to produce, while having a minimal effect on the environment, and creating a dramatically smaller carbon footprint than facilities used to raise other livestock. He highlighted the importance of building the identity of Maine as a brand of seafood in international markets, and said he was considering using the name Little River as part of the company's marketing strategy. He said he hopes for the company to be listed publicly as an initial public offering in three years.

Heim took questions from members of the audience following his presentation. He was asked if the salmon would be marketed as Norwegian or as Maine salmon. Heim said that the fish would be marketed as Maine salmon, and its connection to the state would be highlighted. Another audience member asked what he was planning to offer as salaries to future employees. Although this would depend entirely on what position an individual was hired for, Heim said that he would implement Norway's employment philosophy "which is about investing in our employees … we're in it for the long term."

More information on Nordic Aquafarms may be found at