Bill introduced to delay Gulf aquaculture
U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) on Tuesday introduced a bill that would delay the development of a permitting process for offshore aquaculture operations in the Gulf of Mexico by three-and-a-half years.
Vitter's legislation comes over a year after the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council voted to establish a permitting process to farm fish in Gulf waters, a plan the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration approved last September. (The agency is currently developing an national offshore aquaculture policy.)
But Vitter said the bill, called the Aquaculture Opportunity and Responsibility Act, is designed to protect the Gulf ecosystem, which is being threatened by the Deepwater Horizon oil leak, which has spewed at least 7 million gallons of crude into the Gulf since exploding on 20 April.
"It's clear that the marine environment, particularly off the coast of Louisiana, cannot handle any more stress as it begins its recovery from the ongoing oil spill," said Vitter in a statement. "My bill is a common-sense reprieve for these vital ecosystems that would allow us to step back and assess the potential effects on native species and recreational and commercial fisheries before moving forward with any further aquaculture programs."
In addition to delaying permitting the bill would require the U.S. Department of Commerce to investigate the environmental and economic effects of offshore aquaculture as well as the economic potential of land-based aquaculture systems.
The environmental community applauded the decision. "Given the current challenges facing the Gulf, it is important that we avoid introducing any additional factors that could jeopardize the region's socio-economic or environmental health," said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch (F&WW).
Washington, D.C.-based F&WW is among the organizations that sued the DOC and NOAA over the plan to allow offshore fish farming in the Gulf.
The push to establish a regulatory framework for offshore aquaculture has been ongoing in the United States for years. Last December, U.S. Rep Lois Capps (D-Calif.) on Wednesday introduced a bill, dubbed the National Sustainable Offshore Aquaculture Act, that would do just that. The bill is opposed by F&WW but supported by the Ocean Stewards Institute, a trade organization advocating for open-ocean aquaculture.