U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday nominated Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., as Commerce secretary, a move that may give the fledging U.S. open-ocean aquaculture industry a much-needed boost.
Gregg agreed to take the post in Obama’s cabinet only after striking a deal with New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat, to name a Republican to fill the open Senate seat to prevent Democrats from gaining a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority.
The Department of Commerce includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which overseas fisheries management.
In July 2008, Gregg helped Great Bay Aquaculture in Portsmouth, N.H., and the University of New Hampshire secure federal funding for aquaculture research.
UNH obtained two grants — $212,304 for its longline mussel farm off New Hampshire’s Isles of Shoals and $474,999 to advance the economic viability of open-ocean fish farming — and Great Bay received a $250,000 grant to build a pilot Atlantic cod farm in the Gulf of Maine near Sorrento, Maine.
“He’s been very supportive of our efforts,” said Richard Langan, director of UNH’s Atlantic Marine Aquaculture Center. “I don’t know how far that’ll extend beyond New Hampshire borders. It’s only speculation at this point. But based on his support so far I expect him to continue” backing open-ocean aquaculture.
Former U.S. President George W. Bush’s administration pushed to establish a regulatory framework simplifying and accelerating the permitting process for open-ocean aquaculture, but its bill, the National Offshore Aquaculture Act of 2007, never became law. The New Hampshire operation is one of only a few open-ocean fish farms in federal waters, which extends from 3 to 200 miles offshore.
Last week, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council voted to allow open-ocean aquaculture in federal waters.
However, some environmental groups oppose Gregg’s nomination as Commerce secretary because of his pro-aquaculture stance.
“Many conservation groups, scientists and recreational and commercial fishermen are concerned with the potential threats to human health, the marine environment, and fishing communities posed by offshore aquaculture [such as] water pollution, escaped farmed fish intermixing with or overtaking wild fish, transmission of diseases and parasites from farmed to wild fish, and the need for use of wild fish in feed,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, in a prepared statement.
“If President Obama intends to truly change and reverse Bush’s dismal legacy on the environment, he should not choose Sen. Gregg as Commerce secretary. It would be a controversial and unpopular choice that will undoubtedly cause more problems than benefits,” she added.