Those of you who love Chesapeake Bay Fishing, it’s RED ALERT time: Norwegian company AquaCon is proposing to build a 25-acre indoor salmon farm in Federalsburg, MD, produce about 35 million pounds of salmon per year at the facility, and dump 2.3 million gallons of wastewater PER DAY into Marshyhope Creek. Federal and state designations of the Marshyhope, the only known river in Maryland to support a spawning stock of the endangered Atlantic sturgeon, as “critical habitat” is evidently not enough to quash this epically horrific idea on its own. (They chose a discharge location a stone's throw from the edge of the designated critical area to skirt that factor... nice move, AquaCon).

federalsburg md salmon farm
Who in their right mind would think Federalsburg is an appropriate place for 25 acres of indoor salmon aquaculture? Image courtesy of Google Earth

FishTalk special correspondent Mollie Rudow reports that at a public hearing in Federalsburg this past Wednesday, August 10, “The meeting demonstrated that the will of the of the local and scientific communities falls against permitting AquaCon to build on the Marshyhope. The operation was described as an existential threat to the Atlantic sturgeon, and out of all the comments only one was pro-AquaCon. Community members raised concerns about fish die-off, reduced property values, and the degradation of the Marshyhope.”

The fecal waste produced by this scale of operation would produce levels “well exceeding those of the entire human population of Caroline County, self-contained under a single roof,” according to a joint statement published in the Talbot Spy, written by a group of concerned scientists and community representatives. The statement also noted the latest two similar endeavors include mass die-offs of 600,000 fish in 2020 at a Miami, FL facility, and an incident at a pilot plant in Denmark in 2021 that turned a nearby waterway red with excessive amounts of iron chloride.

“The scale of this is astronomical,” said Dr. David Secor of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Chesapeake Biological Laboratory. “Sturgeon in this river are on the knife’s edge. These fish return here to spawn and as little as a half part per thousand change in salinity could kill their embryos. This is the wrong place to experiment with scaling up an untested system.” Secor also notes that it’s not only the sturgeon at risk, and that the river functions as a nursery for striped bass, white perch shad, river herring, and other species.

scientists tag a sturgeon
Scientists and students prepare to surgically implant a tag in one of Maryland's few remaining sturgeon. Photo courtesy of David Secor

“The number-one issue is this location, there is no good explanation as to why a company this massive would target this miniscule creek, where there’s no way it won’t impact water quality,” said Judith Stribling, professor emeritus of Salisbury University and representative of Friends of the Nanticoke and Wicomico Environmental Trust. “This is the only place in Maryland that Atlantic Sturgeon are reproducing and we don’t believe any level of risk is acceptable.”

We at FishTalk note that along with our concern for the Atlantic sturgeon, fishing on the Marshyhope allows one to enjoy the rare treat of fishing in some of the state’s most pristine waters. To us, it seems mindboggling that the state would even consider allowing a monster McSalmon factory — about the same size as six Walmart super-stores — to discharge millions of gallons a day into an area of the creek so small you can cast across it.

Public comment is being gathered now through October 17; if you would like to comment on this matter to the Maryland Department of the Environment, send an email to Paul Hlavinka, [email protected].