Offshore Aquaculture Takes On Water

By

Steven Hedlund

Published on
September 14, 2008

The push to establish a regulatory framework for U.S. offshore aquaculture is taking on water.

Last week, 12 congressmen, led by Reps. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) and Madeline Bordallo (D-Guam), urged the Bush administration to nix a rule authorizing the Minerals Management Service to issue leases, easements and rights of way for offshore fish farms in federal waters, arguing the agency doesn't possess the authority or expertise to do so. Nearly 50 fishing, consumer and environmental groups are also fighting the provision.

Then on Friday, Alaska Gov. and Republican VP hopeful Sarah Palin opposed the rule, requesting that offshore aquaculture be removed from a list of alternative rights-of-use for decommissioned oil platforms until environmental and socioeconomic baselines are set allowing for a "meaningful" evaluation of its impact.

"Alaska's natural wild fisheries have been well managed on a sustainable basis for years and are critically important to our state's economy," said Palin. "Disease, parasites and escapement of non-native stocks from fish farms are just some elements of the threat that aquaculture can pose to wild fish stocks."

In April 2007, less than a month after the Bush administration introduced the National Offshore Aquaculture Act of 2007, Palin asked that the legislation include a five-year moratorium on new offshore fish farms to address their environmental and socioeconomic impact.

Palin's offshore aquaculture resistance is amplified now that she's on the presidential ticket with Arizona Sen. John McCain - everything she says and does will be in the spotlight from now until Nov. 4.

If lawmakers truly wish to reduce the United States' seafood trade deficit, a regulatory framework for offshore aquaculture is needed - the permitting process is too cumbersome and lengthy now for the industry to grow at a competitive rate.

But opposition to offshore fish farms is strong, and the National Offshore Aquaculture Act's likelihood of becoming law is dwindling as the election nears. It could be years before the U.S. offshore aquaculture industry takes off.

Best regards,
Steven Hedlund
Associate Editor
SeaFood Business

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