US bill encouraging offshore aquaculture draws opposition

A photo of an offshore finfish net-pen

A bill introduced in the U.S. Congress designed to encourage offshore aquaculture has drawn opposition from a coalition of fishermen opposed to the practice.

The SEAfood Act would authorize NOAA to create an offshore aquaculture assessment program, establish a grant program for aquaculture centers of excellence, and order two reports on aquaculture regulations. Don’t Cage Our Oceans, a group opposed to offshore finfish farming, came out against the legislation this week, claiming offshore aquaculture allows “chemicals, diseases, and untreated waste to flow into the open ocean where it poses harms to wildlife, and fishing, and coastal communities.”

“We can all agree that everyone deserves access to fresh, local, and healthy seafood, but this so-called SEAfood Act flies in the face of this goal,” Don’t Cage Our Oceans Legislative Director James Mitchell said. “Its harmful provisions would put local businesses at a disadvantage while encouraging big corporations to construct risky trial facilities without proper oversight to safeguard against environmental disaster. We can’t afford to hand over our public spaces to big businesses that will extract profit at the expense of the environment, small business owners, and coastal residents. We need the House and other federal leaders to focus on supporting the fishing businesses and methods that we know are safe, sustainable, and able to feed the American people.”

One Fish Foundation Founder and recreational fisherman Colles Stowell lambasted the bill as an attempt to introduce net-pen farming without environmental assessments.

"The SEAfood Act is a thinly veiled attempt to get industrial net pens operational in federal waters before any meaningful environmental assessments can show they are harming marine ecosystems,” Stowell said in a statement released by Don’t Cage Our Oceans. “And once those 'demonstration' net pens are in, it will be hell to get them out, regardless of the scale of the ecological damage from disease, sea lice, pollution, and other issues. I'm disappointed our elected officials don't see this bill for what it is: a foot in the door with no recourse should things go badly."

The Coalition for Sustainable Aquaculture, a group formed in support of offshore aquaculture, supports the bill, claiming it is “the only measure in Congress that lays the groundwork for an equitable and inclusive seafood economy of both farmed and wild-caught fish while prioritizing data and science in the development of offshore aquaculture in the U.S.”

U.S. Representative Nancy Mace (R-South Carolina) reintroduced the SEAfood Act this month, with U.S. Representative Jimmy Panetta (D-California) and U.S. Representative Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) cosponsoring the bill. The SEAfood Act was first introduced by former U.S. Representative Alan Lowenthal (D-California) in late 2022, but the legislation didn’t gain any traction before the end of the year.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock/Angelo Giampiccolo


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