• Ben

Why I'm leaving Whole Oceans

Late last week I came to the realization that it was time for me to move on from Whole Oceans and its parent company Emergent Holdings.

I have worked with Whole Oceans in a variety of capacities for the past three years. To have experienced first-hand the emergence of not only a new company, but a new industry both in Maine and in North America has been the thrill of my professional life.

My goal when I initially engaged in this project was to assist in the development of an institutional-scale Impact investment that brought sustainable economic development to Maine. I’m proud to say that goal was achieved and then some.

Although Atlantic salmon is highly recommended for your health, and nearly 500,000 MT are consumed in North America annually, it is not a wild species. The consumer demand for Atlantic salmon caused it to be listed as an endangered species on 11 of Maine’s rivers in 2000. Nearly 20 years later the US Fish & Wildlife are struggling to maintain genetic strains of wild Maine salmon. During this time, I have been volunteering for The Nature Conservancy of Maine (I am a trustee) working with many partners in the State to restore spawning habitat for wild Atlantic salmon through the removal of dams on the Penobscot River and the addition of culverts upstream. That work is ongoing and far from done.

The current Atlantic salmon that you are eating has been farmed and has traveled a great distance, creating a high economic and carbon cost. In Maine, a State at the heart of the wild Atlantic salmon fishery, we have the opportunity to lead the country in scaling a proven new technology that sustainably raises the best-tasting, antibiotic-free fish for local and regional consumption.

The challenge Whole Oceans faced as we formed this new company was the high upfront CAPEX (capital cost) due to the time it takes to construct a facility (approx. 1-year) and grow our fish (approx. 2-years). As we are a startup, this challenge required us to keep our team small as we worked to de-risk critical elements of the project. We setoff to redevelop a stranded-asset – a former paper-mill currently in the process of being scrapped – and to demonstrate to the State a new opportunity for redevelopment in a community with enormous potential, Bucksport, Maine. I worked to engage the local stakeholder base of the Penobscot watershed for the past year to introduce them to the people behind the project and demonstrate Whole Oceans’ shared concern for the health of the ecosystem throughout the watershed. Additionally, I was thrilled to initiate meaningful engagements with the Bucksport public school system, Maine Maritime Academy, the Maine Community College System, the University of Maine, the University of New England and the University of Southern Maine to co-develop a Statewide workforce development strategy for the growth of the necessary workforce to enable Maine to become the leader in land-based recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) professionals. Finally, we were able to successfully create a roadmap to permitting our sustainable growout facility working closely with federal, state and local regulators.

With every high-growth endeavor I have been involved with, there comes a time to recognize the growth that has occurred. Whole Oceans is about to embark on a new phase that will require new leadership focused on the successful execution of an enormously complex project.

The investors behind Whole Oceans are committed to Bucksport and the overall growth of Atlantic salmon land-based aquaculture in Maine. It is an exciting time for Maine and I am thrilled to have had this preview of what is to come.

Whole Oceans is one of three, and the only US-owned, large-scale land-based Atlantic salmon RAS under development in the US that is well on its way to becoming fully permitted. It has been my greatest honor to help lead this effort and I look forward to growing this industry in Maine and in other parts of North America in the years to come.

Ben Willauer

©2018 by Ben Willauer