Maine megaproject builder: “We have to think big”

Aslak Berge

He wants to build an integrated aquaculture operation for 33,000 tonnes a year in Maine, but Nordic Aquafarms’ president, Erik Heim, won’t settle on salmon alone.

Yesterday, his company announced that they intend to build a land-based salmon-growing operation by the little town of Belfast in northern Maine. The company isn’t the only outfit launching exciting, capital-intensive aquaculture plans of late, but they separate themselves from many others by having large amounts of finance already in place.

Read Nordic to invest “up to USD 500 million” in Maine RAS

“Yes, we’re a relatively strong group of shareholders with significant access to capital. This is a multistage project, as these kinds of projects really are. In the first building phase, we will obtain capital from the shareholder group, and then we’ll expand that to some degree. Just look at the board — with Petter Borg, Lars-Henrik Roeren and Haakon Aschehaug — these are boys who know this capital market. So, we have a board that’s actively engaged in this,” Heim said.

By year-end 2016, the Nordic Aquafarms balance sheet showed 143 million kroner (EUR 14.9 million) in assets —  99.3 percent of it owned by the company. Since then, company fundraising raised 288 million kroner.

The largest shareholder, with a quarter of all shares, is the Rasmussen shipping family of Kristiansand. Koeniggsegg-owner and industrial designer, Baard Eker, are among the larger owners in the Fredrikstad-based company.

So, you can talk about the project without having to mention finance?

“The total project will run in stages, like all projects of this type. The finance will fall into place in stages. It’s the same as the project seen in Florida. It will also be financed in stages,” Heim told SalmonBusiness.

Have you looked at the costs of the plant Atlantic Sapphire is putting up in Florida?

“No, we’ve done our own calculations. Obviously, we know about the various projects underway, but we have done this out of our own evaluation, and this is what we’ve come up with. Project Sapphire is far away. This is a large country (the U.S.) we’re talking about. Being in many places, investing in many countries internationally, that’s central for us.”

Many countries
Apart from the Maine investment, Nordic Aquafarms has a facility at Jylland in Denmark and another being set up in Fredrikstad, Norway.

Would you consider listing to raise capital like Atlantic Sapphire has done?

“Not yet. We’ll come back to that in a while. Right now, it isn’t being discussed. As mentioned, there are several stages. We’ll get back to that over the next three to four years. A lot of things have to be put in place. Over the past year, we’ve hired people and strengthened our organizational ability to execute. We’ll continue that this year to live up to these promises.”

How far along is the Fredrikstad facility?

“We’ll be in production at the end of the year. This week we’ve erected the tank structure. We’re building large tanks 43 meters in diameter. We’re building the tank supports first. The next step is to put a watertight roof overhead, and that’ll happen over the spring and summer.

“And as you surely know, we’re in production in Denmark. Kingfish are in production. The world’s largest kingfish installation has been erected in Denmark. We’ve got four-kilogram fish there. Eggs go to processing after 15 months. It’s something apart from salmon. It’s insane. They grow like weeds,” he explained, intensely.

Demand for this new species has been pretty high.

“A sales agreement will be communicated later this week. It’s already agreed. It’ll happen in Denmark over the next two or three days. An international customer has secured the whole production batch. The kingfish market is a lot smaller than salmon. It’s a lot more expensive than salmon. Kingfish is mostly used in the sushi and sashimi markets, but it’s a good fish to fry, too. They go for about 100 to 120 kroner (EUR 10 to EUR 12.5) a kilo.”

Heim, who leads Nordic Aquafarms, is both a Norwegian and an American citizen.

“I was born in the U.S. to Norwegian parents. Norwegian kids. Norwegian wife. I (sired children) here (in the U.S.) and studied here. I have a good foot in both camps.”

Where did you study?

“A couple of hours south of here, in Boston. Right now, I’m in Portland, Maine. Belfast lies an hour-and-three-quarters north of Portland,” he explained.

Political support
“The consents process I reckon will run through to the fall. It has to be in place before we can build. But, both senators and governors have expressed support for the project. And we got a formal letter from Congress,” he added.

“My goal now is to build a strong bridge between Norway and the U.S. Here in Maine, nature is not unlike it is in Norway, and it’s the geographically closest part of the U.S. to Norway. My perspective, is that we know there has to be explosive seafood production in the world over the next 10 years. For us, the flexibility of several species has been important. Right now, we’re focused on salmon here, but we’ll see.

“We have to think big here. We have to think that way when we walk into the future. That’s how I see it, anyway.”