Legal tussle erupts over $400 million salmon farm in Maine.
“What we’re going to create in Bucksport is a leading edge facility,” announced Rob Piasio, chief executive officer of Whole Oceans. “We will be one of the largest land-based salmon farms in the world and will have the most advanced technology in the world.”
The bullish executive continued, “We intend to be the next hundred-year industry for Bucksport.”
This was 2018. A long time ago in the dizzying world of land-based salmon farming, and Piasio, is long gone.
Nevertheless, Whole Oceans plans for a 20,000 tonne, land-based salmon farm at the site of a former paper mill in Maine have continued to limp on under a dizzying succession of new executives. Projected costs for the project are now said to exceed $400 million.
The company claims that it has already pre-sold 100 per cent of its total production for the next 10 years.
But when will any of that production actually happen?
For investors, the promised rewards must seem as far away as ever.
In April 2021 Whole Oceans’ Indiana-based parent company, Emergent Holdings, fired one of its main contractors, Pranger Enterprises. The inevitable lawsuit is now underway.
New law suit
Whole Oceans’ parent company, Emergent Holdings, is being sued by GNP Consulting, also based in Indiana. GNP were originally brought on to aid with aquaculture projects but later terminated. The firing came, in part, because the firm allegedly underestimated the cost of the planned farm by $150 million.
In 2019, Nicholas and Gabriel Pranger, who own the consulting firm, sold their aquaculture engineering firm PR Aqua to Emergent Holdings. The company paid $3 million and promised another $3.25 million to be paid in installments, according to Emergent.
As part of the deal, the Prangers consulting firm would continue to manage PR Aqua for five years and help with Whole Oceans. However, the relationship grew strained and the consulting contract was terminated in June 2021, according to court documents.
In July 2021, the Prangers filed a lawsuit against Emergent in Indiana federal court, saying that Emergent still owed them more than $2.4 million under the installment agreement. The Prangers argued that they should be paid that money and be allowed to continue operating PR Aqua.
In a counterclaim, Emergent said the contract and payments were ceased partially because Nicholas Pranger either failed or lacked the competence necessary to manage projects and had underestimated the cost of the Whole Oceans project by $150 million.
Pranger originally presented a $250 million business plan for the project in Bucksport, Maine, but it now stands to cost nearly $400 million “as a result of Nick’s poor planning and failure to take into consideration numerous pieces of equipment and other materials necessary for the project,” according to Emergent’s claim.
Pranger’s communication was so poor that one contractor thought it was supposed to supply plans for a fish hospital instead of a fish barn, Emergent has alleged.
Neither Whole Ocean nor Emergent responded to a request for comment.