WASHINGTON, DC, June 8, 2005 (ENS):
To meet a growing demand for seafood, the Bush administration
is proposing to open federal waters to fish farming.
A bill sent to Congress Tuesday grants the Secretary
of Commerce authority to issue permits for marine aquaculture
operations in federal waters, which cover about 3.4
million square miles from three to 200 miles off the
coasts of the United States.
The measure "will create jobs and revenues for
coastal communities and U.S. businesses by allowing
for the expansion of an underutilized industry,"
said Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez.
"This legislation fulfills a promise President
[George W.] Bush made to the American people in his
Ocean Action Plan, and we urge Congress to take action
in support of this bill," he said.
The United States does not have a regulatory structure
in place to allow aquaculture operations in federal
marine waters, and Americans are eating farmed seafood
imported from countries such as Canada, Thailand, China,
Ecuador, Chile and Mexico.
The U.S. seafood deficit amounts to about $7 billion
annually and the U.S. currently imports more than 60
percent of its fish and shellfish.
"Our goal is to develop a sustainable aquaculture
program that balances the needs of fishermen, coastal
residents and visitors, seafood consumers, the environment,
and the aquaculture industry," said Conrad Lautenbacher,
administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
"Today's announcement starts a public process
through which all our stakeholders and constituents
will have an opportunity to provide guidance as we begin
developing the guidelines and regulations for offshore
aquaculture ventures," Lautenbacher said.
The legislation is consistent with a recommendation
made by the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy in its final
report last September.
The Commission, a congressionally mandated body appointed
by President Bush, recommended that Congress "amend
the National Aquaculture Act to designate NOAA as the
lead federal agency for implementing a national policy
on environmentally and economically sustainable marine
Through a new Office of Sustainable Marine Aquaculture,
the Commission said, "NOAA should develop a single,
multi-agency federal permitting process for the industry
that ensures that aquaculture facilities meet all applicable
environmental standards and protects the sustainability
and diversity of wild stocks."
The measure sent to Congress, known as the National
Offshore Aquaculture Act of 2005, provides for consultation
among federal agencies that considers risks to and impacts
on natural fish stocks; marine ecosystems; biological,
chemical and physical features of water quality and
habitat; marine mammals, other forms of marine life,
birds, and endangered species; and other features of
the environment, before a permit is issued and during
operation of the aquaculture facility.
Permit holders may have to meet environmental requirements
for monitoring, data archiving, and reporting.
The Secretary of Commerce may protect the environment
by ordering temporary or permanent relocation of offshore
aquaculture sites, or a moratorium on additional sites
within a prescribed area, the bill says.
And while the facilities are to be located in federal
waters, the bill provides that the law of the nearest
adjacent coastal state is declared to be the law of
the United States, and will apply to any permitted offshore
Aquaculture facilities will share federal waters with
a whole range of other users and under the bill must
be compatible with the use of the U.S. Exclusive Economic
Zone "for navigation, fishing, resource protection,
recreation, national defense (including military readiness),
mineral exploration and development, and other activities."
Through public rulemaking, NOAA will establish criteria
for aquaculture sites to avoid conflicts with shipping
and other uses and to minimize impacts on the environment.
Environmentalists who have had experience with open
net cage aquaculture find there are many problems associated
The David Suzuki Foundation, based in British Columbia,
Canada where aquaculture is practiced, has studied fish
farming using open net cages for years. The foundation
warns that sewage from such fish farms pollutes surrounding
waters, and that drugs, including antibiotics, are required
to keep farmed fish healthy.
"Worldwide, open net-cage fish farming industries
use publicly owned coastal waters to support what are
essentially intensive private feedlot operations that
dump drug-laced sewage into the ocean," the foundation
Escapes of farmed fish, which are distinct genetically,
threaten native wild fish, says the foundation and other
Instead of net cages, the foundation says the fish farming
industry should use safe, fully enclosed systems that
trap wastes and keep fish from escaping.
And farmed fish are fed pellets made from other fish
- depleting other fish species on a global scale, the
foundation points out.
"Salmon, for example, are carnivores, and are
fed pellets made from other fish," the Suzuki Foundation
explains. "Farmed salmon actually represent a net
loss of protein in the global food supply as it takes
from two to five kilos of wild fish to grow one kilo
"Highly nutritious fish like herring, mackerel,
sardines and anchovy are used to produce the feed for
farmed salmon, which is essentially luxury fare for
the North American, European and Japanese markets,"
the foundation says.
At the same time that the Bush administration is clearing
the way for aquaculture in federal waters, wild salmon
recovery programs are being starved of funding, salmon
There are 26 West coast salmon and steelhead populations
currently listed as threatened or endangered under the
Endangered Species Act.
Yet, the House Appropriations Committee Tuesday approved
a spending bill that would cut a key salmon recovery
fund by 44 percent.
The Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund, which helps
fund state and local salmon and steelhead recovery efforts
in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California, and Alaska,
was cut by the House to $50 million for fiscal year
2006, down from $89 million in fiscal year 2005, and
$110 million as recently as fiscal year 2002.
The White House budget proposal requested $90 million
for the Coastal Recovery Fund, while conservation groups
have called for increasing its funding to $200 million.
Conservationists argue that a substantial increase
is needed if new recovery plans intended to restore
imperiled wild salmon stocks to healthy, fishable levels
are to be effective.
“Salmon need healthy habitat to recover, and protecting
and restoring their habitat requires more federal commitment,
not less,” said Michael Garrity of American Rivers.
On Monday, three Republican Congressional Representatives,
C.L. “Butch” Otter, of Idaho, and Doc Hastings
and Cathy McMorris of Washington, attended a hearing
in Clarkston, Washington, where they promoted voluntary
restoration measures while criticizing the efforts of
conservationists, fishing businesses, and Indian tribes
to restore the lower Snake River and its salmon by removing
four federal dams.
“On some rivers like the lower Snake, removing
outdated dams is necessary to recover salmon, but on
most West coast rivers the kind of funding provided
by the Coastal Recovery Fund is what salmon need,”
said Garrity. “Salmon are essential to our Northwest
way of life. Communities up and down the West coast
will benefit if the Senate restores funding for habitat
restoration at least to last year’s levels."
Several Pacific salmon recovery plans are expected
to be finalized before the end of this year. Recovery
plans are intended not only to prevent extinction, but
to restore salmon to the point at which the protections
afforded by the Endangered Species Act are no longer
Implementing new recovery plans for Puget Sound and
the Columbia Basin is likely to require hundreds of
millions of dollars per year in new federal, state,
local, and tribal funding.
The U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy recommended paying
for the recovery of species and ecosystems by establishing
an Ocean Policy Trust Fund, based on unallocated revenues
from offshore oil and gas development and new offshore
activities, such as aquaculture.
"New offshore activities, such as renewable energy,
aquaculture, or bioprospecting, may also produce revenues
in time, and these should be added to the Fund,"
the Commission said.
"Establishment of, and distributions from, the
Ocean Policy Trust Fund should be kept separate from
any decisions about whether a particular offshore activity
should be authorized and permitted," the Commission
The Bush administration's aquaculture bill makes no
mention of where revenues derived from permitting aquaculture
facilities might be directed.
NOAA says that research funded by the agency over the
past decade shows that offshore aquaculture can work
Currently, aquaculture pilot projects - using submerged
cages for finfish and submerged longlines for mussels
off New Hampshire, Hawaii and Puerto Rico - are showing
good production and environmental results. NOAA said,
"The projects demonstrate that proper placement
of sites can minimize environmental concerns."
The U.S. Offshore Aquaculture Act Information is found
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