Suit to halt Gulf aquaculture on hold


SeafoodSource staff

Published on
August 15, 2010

A lawsuit intended to halt the development of offshore fish farming in the Gulf of Mexico has been put on hold by Judge Gladys Kessler of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

According to Food & Water Watch (F&WW), which filed the suit in October 2009, the suit was put on the shelf because the federal government is still developing rules to accompany its plan for offshore aquaculture in the Gulf, the Washington, D.C.-based environmental group announced on Thursday.

In September 2009, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration approved the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council’s decision to establish a fish-farm permitting process in Gulf waters.

NOAA has already gathered public input on the plan, which is not a law but rather a guide that would steer NOAA’s decision making with respect to offshore aquaculture. The public-comment period ran from 14 April to 21 May, with meetings held in Rhode Island, Louisiana, California, Washington, Alaska and Hawaii. Nearly 200 individuals submitted feedback, which is available on NOAA’s website.

Though favored by industry groups such as Ocean Stewards Institute, the plan has been panned by environmental groups, especially F&WW.

The organization was involved in a bill introduced in May by U.S. Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana to delay the plan by three-and-a-half years. At the time, Vitter said the Gulf ecosystem “can’t handle any more stress” due to the Deepwater Horizon oil leak, which has since been plugged. Called the Aquaculture Opportunity and Responsibility Act, the bill has no co-sponsors and has been referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

“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 F&WW Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “This ruling is disappointing.”

Once the rules are issued, F&WW will reinstitute its suit, said Zach Corrigan, F&WW staff attorney, who called the plan “illegal.”

The push to establish a regulatory framework for offshore aquaculture in U.S. waters has been ongoing for years. In December 2009, U.S. Rep Lois Capps of California introduced a bill, titled 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 and some environmental groups, including Ocean Conservancy.

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