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
"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 Administration (NOAA).
"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
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
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 facility.
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 with it.
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 says.
Escapes of farmed fish, which are distinct genetically, threaten
native wild fish, says the foundation and other environmental groups.
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 of salmon.
"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 advocates say.
There are 26 West coast salmon and steelhead populations currently
listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species
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 said.
The Bush administration's aquaculture bill makes no mention of
where revenues derived from permitting aquaculture facilities might
NOAA says that research funded by the agency over the past decade
shows that offshore aquaculture can work well.
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 at: http://www.noaa.gov/aquaculture
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