Gulf Council Approves Open-Ocean Aquaculture


SeafoodSource staff

Published on
February 19, 2009

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council voted, 11-5, yesterday to allow open-ocean aquaculture and establish a permitting process to farm fish native to the Gulf in underwater cages.

The initiative, which now goes to the U.S. Department of Commerce for a final vote, is the first of any in federal waters, which extend from 3 to 200 miles offshore.

Former 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.

There are only a few open-ocean fish farms operating in federal waters off Hawaii, New Hampshire and Puerto Rico.

Supporters say open-ocean aquaculture will take pressure off of ailing wild fish stocks, create jobs for struggling fishermen and reduce the country's dependence on imported seafood (about 85 percent of the U.S. seafood supply is imported).

Fishermen "have been over-regulated to death and we don't have enough wild production because of regulatory problems," said Harlon Pearce, a council board member and owner of LA Fish in Kenner, La., during yesterday's meeting.

Opponents say open-ocean aquaculture will have an adverse effect on the Gulf's ecology and on wild fish stocks that may encounter farmed fish.

"Rushing to allow open-ocean aquaculture in the Gulf of Mexico is an accident waiting to happen. If the council is going to create a series of fish farms in federal waters, a national system with uniform guidelines should first be in place," said Andrea Kavanagh, manager of Pew Environment Group's Salmon Aquaculture Reform Campaign.

"Environmental concerns must play a critical role if and when we create national standards for offshore fish farming," she added. "For too long, untreated waste, escapes and disease have plagued the aquaculture industry. We cannot ignore their impacts on our fragile ocean eco-systems."

"Despite numerous serious concerns and a landslide of comments - over 16,000 in opposition, including a letter submitted just last week signed by over 120 organizations and individuals nationwide - the council pushed through its offshore aquaculture plan," said Marianne Cufone, director of Food & Water Watch's seafood program.

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