Fish Farm Frenzy

With diminishing wild fish populations and a growing American appetite for seafood, the international aquaculture industry is netting massive profits by raising fish in farms. Looking to tap into this profit stream, the Bush administration has proposed federal legislation that would expand aquaculture enterprises deep into federal ocean waters.

As the Associated Press reports, Department of Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez announced the federal proposal at the recent International Boston Seafood Show. While fish farms are currently permitted in the 3 miles of waters off the coastline, the new proposal would allow aquaculture companies to farm fish in the federally regulated waters that start at that 3-mile mark and end 200 miles from the coast. Environment News Service reports that the National Offshore Aquaculture Act of 2007 is meant to give the struggling US fishing industry a chance to tap into the $70 billion a year global aquaculture industry. ‘The US is not in the game and this bill will help the US compete in this highly profitable industry,’ Gutierrez said.

While the bill might work wonders for the American fishing industry, environmentalists worry that the proposal could wreak havoc on the country’s surrounding oceans. The Director of the Pure Salmon Campaign, Andrea Kavanagh, released a statement calling for further analysis and protection measures. Kavanagh argues that the impacts of near-shore fish farms, already in operation within the 3-mile state limit, aren’t fully known and that allowing companies a wider reign over the federal waters in the deep ocean could exacerbate pollution problems and further endanger native fish populations. Millions of captive fish held in open-net pens leak water waste, sewage, and toxic chemicals directly into the ocean. On top of that, she maintains, ‘millions of fish escape from these pens each year, spreading disease, interbreeding with and often out-competing wild fish populations.’?

In another statement released on the heels of the secretary’s announcement, Christopher Mann, senior officer for the environment at the Pew Charitable Trusts, expressed concern over the dependence of aquaculture on wild fish populations as food for farmed fish. This practice, Mann writes, ‘results in farmed fish consuming many times their weight in wild fish’ and ‘ultimately reduces the amount of fish available for human consumption.’

There are, however, environmental options for fish farmers. Though finfish farming (such as raising salmon or tuna), has been proven to be environmentally detrimental, Mann notes that shellfish aquaculture can be made sustainable. As Kavanagh puts it: ‘Fish can be farmed safely and with minimal ecological damage, but they need to be raised in closed systems with strict environmental controls.’

Go there >>
White House Seeks to Boost Aquaculture

Go there, too >>
Commerce Secretary Opens Door to Aquaculture in Federal Waters

And there >>
Statement by Andrea Kavanagh, Director, Pure Salmon Campaign

And there >>
Statement in Response to the Bush Administration’s National Aquaculture Policy

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