With environmentalist support, Alaska Rep. Don Young files anti-aquaculture bill

Published on
May 7, 2019

U.S. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) filed legislation on Thursday 2 May that would ban U.S. officials from allowing the establishment of new commercial aquaculture operations in federal waters.

Young’s bill, the Keep Fin Fish Free Act, would keep both the Secretary of the Interior and the Commerce Secretary from permitting fish farms in the United States’ exclusive economic zone unless specifically authorized by Congress.

Young is the senior-most member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He also is a key legislator when it comes to legislation regarding the seafood industry.

“The seafood industry is critical to Alaska’s economy, and we must be doing all we can to protect the health and integrity of our state’s wild fish stock,” he said in a statement. “If not properly managed, industrial aquaculture operations threaten Alaska’s unique ecosystem with non-native and genetically modified fish species. My legislation takes needed steps to prevent the unchecked spread of aquaculture operations by reigning in the federal bureaucracy, and empowering Congress to determine where new aquaculture projects should be conducted.”

Young’s bill was immediately supported by numerous environmental organizations, including Friends of the Earth, the Institute for Fisheries Resources, and the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance.

“Factory farms have no place in the ocean or on land,”  Shannon Eldredge, NAMA board president, said in a statement. “NAMA supports the Keep Fin Fish Free Act because raising fish in massive cages in federal waters is completely against the public interest and will not solve our food system crisis. These large-scale operations are toxic and harmful to human health, the environment and our fishing industry.”

Last year, the Advancing the Quality and Understanding of American Aquaculture Act was filed in both the Senate and House. The bill would give NOAA Fisheries, a Commerce Department agency, more authority in permitting aquaculture developments in the exclusive economic zone, which stretches out 200 miles from America’s coastlines. 

While the U.S. has one of the largest zones in the world, it ranks fairly low in aquaculture production. Supporters of the initiative say increasing aquaculture would not harm wild fisheries and would help the country reduce its seafood trade deficit.

Margaret Henderson, campaign manager for Stronger America Through Seafood, said the industry group supporting the AQUAA Act wasn’t surprised by Young’s bill, as he had filed a similar bill in previous sessions. 

She added that Young’s language is consistent with current federal law, which a U.S. court used last fall to decide that the Magnuson-Stevens Act does not give NOAA Fisheries authority over the industry in federal waters.

“For us, this simply supports that we need federal legislation” to allow aquaculture in the zone, Henderson told SeafoodSource.

The bill needs to be refiled in the Current Congressional session, and more than 120 industry leaders earlier this year sent a letter to lawmakers urging their support. Henderson said U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi), the bill’s sponsor, is reviewing the legislation and working to find a Democratic co-sponsor before re-filing the bill. 

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