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USA - Expanding U.S. Aquaculture to the Open Ocean

Allowing the U.S. aquaculture industry to operate in the open ocean could help reduce the strain on the world’s fisheries as well as counteract a seafood trade deficit in the U.S. that has grown to more than $9 billion. In the process, however, open ocean aquaculture could cause environmental damage and further jeopardize wild fisheries.

January 7, 2015


Many fisheries are overfished and some are on the brink of collapse, threatening the sustainability of the world’s seafood supply. The United States would suffer greatly from a collapse of the global seafood market, as the vast majority of its seafood is imported. Allowing the U.S. aquaculture industry to operate in the open ocean could help reduce the strain on the world’s fisheries as well as counteract a seafood trade deficit in the U.S. that has grown to more than $9 billion. In the process, however, open ocean aquaculture could cause environmental damage and further jeopardize wild fisheries.

 

521108939Recently, the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) proposed a rule that would create a new regulatory program to allow for open ocean aquaculture in the Gulf of Mexico. The proposed rule aims to increase the productivity of Gulf fisheries by permitting offshore commercial seafood farming operations, known as aquaculture, in U.S. waters.

 

If the proposed rule were enacted, it would establish a permitting program covering the operation of aquaculture facilities, sales of fish, and harvesting of wild fish to provide stock for aquaculture. Permits would be issued only to U.S. citizens or resident aliens and would be valid for ten years.

 

Applicants would be required to conduct a “baseline environmental assessment,” provide assurance that the costs of removing the facility would be covered, and certify that aquaculture fish are derived from a local fish population and are not genetically modified. By requiring fish to be derived from local fish stock, the proposed rule would minimize the environmental effects of fish escaping from aquaculture facilities, which may harm native species and ecosystems.

 

Through the proposed rule, the NMFS would also implement procedures for tracking fish raised in aquaculture and establish measures for distinguishing aquaculture harvests from wild fish harvests. A maximum yield limit would be imposed on the aquaculture industry, and wild fish populations would be monitored for adverse effects. Aquaculture operators would be required to report on fish found to suffer from certain diseases, any entanglement of wild animals, and any escapes of significant numbers of fish from aquaculture operations.

 

The proposed rule is intended to implement the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council’s Fishery Management Plan for Regulating Offshore Aquaculture in the Gulf of Mexico, established in 2009. After the Deepwater Horizon oil well blowout in 2010, the NMFS considered effects of the released oil and use of dispersant before moving forward with its rulemaking process. The NMFS anticipates that if the proposed rule is enacted, five to twenty open ocean aquaculture facilities could be permitted within the next decade.

 

Although the proposed rule states that it “would establish a comprehensive regulatory program for managing the development of an environmentally sound and economically sustainable aquaculture industry,” many environmentalists are skeptical that potential harm to the environment could be adequately addressed.

[Source: Sonya Shea, Penn Program on Regulation REG BLOG. Read full story]

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