January 12, 2007
Woods Hole Marine Aquaculture Taskforce Recommends Strict Regulation
The Marine Aquaculture Taskforce advocates imposition of strict environmental standards on farming fish in U.S. ocean waters. The stakeholder panel, formed by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution with financial support from the Pew Trust, predicts rapid expansion of offshore aquaculture operations. Marine Aquaculture Taskforce report Current aquaculture operations are not ecologically sustainable because farmed fish are fed fishmeal, using 6.6 kg of wild-caught fish to grow 1 kg of farmed fish and fishmeal supply fisheries are fully or overexploited.
The panel recommends that Congress should put the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in charge and mandate it to evaluate the risks of offshore aquaculture before granting any permits. Major hazards include pollution from excess waste and feed and the risk that escaped fish will harm wild populations. The panel recommends that non-native fish should not be allowed in coastal or open waters, unless they have been shown to pose no risk. In addition to strict regulations, the panel also suggests market-based incentives to encourage investment in sustainable aquaculture operations.
As the Woods Hole press release indicated:
“There is a growing need for seafood to feed a hungry world, but the world’s fisheries can no longer meet the demand,” said task force chairman Rear Adm. (ret.) Richard F. Pittenger, former WHOI vice president for Marine Facilities and Operations and a former Oceanographer of the Navy. “Half of our seafood comes from aquaculture, and that share is only going to grow. The federal government has proposed a fivefold increase in U.S. aquaculture production, and while we certainly agree with an increase, we believe it must be done in an environmentally responsible way.”
Noting that marine aquaculture would benefit from clear federal leadership, the task force recommended that Congress should assign a leading role to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for planning and regulating the industry. On one hand, the permitting and application processes should be streamlined and simplified, and there should be market-based incentives for businesses to invest in sustainable, ecologically sound fish-farming projects. At the same time, environmental risks should be evaluated and best practices should be in place before permits are granted.
In sum, the federal marine aquaculture program should be “precautionary, science-based, socially and economically compatible with affected coastal communities, transparent in decision making,” the Marine Aquaculture Task Force wrote in its final report.
Offshore aquaculture has some natural advantages over coastal fish-farming operations because open-ocean winds, waves, and currents can naturally remove excess feed and wastes. Moving operations offshore also reduces conflict with recreational and real estate interests.
But there are environmental and ecological questions, such as which species should be farmed and where, and what level of discharges from aquaculture facilities can be safely absorbed by the ocean. Some researchers are concerned that domesticated fish—and the medicines and disease outbreaks sometimes associated with high-density fish farms—could threaten natural stocks of fish.
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