WASHINGTON, DC - October 24 - The environmental and economic consequences of a rushed plan to allow industrial fish farming in the Gulf of Mexico could threaten the half a billion dollar a year commercial fishing industries and the more than five billion dollars of annual economic activity connected to recreational fishing in the region, according to an analysis released today by Food & Water Watch.
“Right now, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council are developing a plan to divide up and rent out our oceans so private, often foreign-based, companies can make money by growing fish in large pens and cages in our waters,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “Such open ocean aquaculture in the gulf has the potential to be an environmental and economic disaster.”
The Gulf Council’s plan, known as the Generic Offshore Aquaculture Amendment, fails to sufficiently consider the possible negative economic consequences of ocean fish farming, also known as open ocean or offshore aquaculture, charged Food & Water Watch and two fishing organizations from the Gulf and from Alaska in a conference call discussing the plan and the analysis.
“Our wild fisheries are heavily scrutinized and regulated according to rigid national and regional standards, yet, the Gulf Council and NOAA are willing to ease the way for aquaculture with too little regard for the environment, American jobs, or the security of our coastal communities,” said Paula Terrel, a 30 year Alaskan commercial fisherman who also works on fish farming issues for Alaska Marine Conservation Council.
“Growing fish out in the open waters is a serious issue for the Gulf,” said Sal Versaggi, of the Versaggi Shrimp Company and Southern Shrimp Alliance. “People are so personally and economically linked with the ocean and coasts here – residents and visitors alike enjoy boating, fishing, seafood, swimming and so many more benefits. These are important and need to be safeguarded from the threats associated with offshore aquaculture.”
Based on experience elsewhere, the practice of offshore aquaculture, combined with the influx of farmed fish imports, could threaten the economic wellbeing of the Gulf’s active fishing industries. For example, from 1992 to 2001, the value of the Alaskan salmon harvest plunged from $600 million to a bit more than $200 million, a drop of more than 60 percent. A similar price crash would devastate the U.S. Gulf of Mexico fishing industry, which in 2006 landed more than $41 million worth of cobia, pompano, grouper, and snapper, all valuable finfish.
Promises by aquaculture proponents to reduce seafood imports or create jobs also fall flat, according to the analysis. The United States exports 70 percent of domestic production, which actually drives up our demand for imported fish. The kinds of valuable finfish targeted for aquaculture would more likely feed the export market than American consumers, said the groups. As for jobs, the salmon farming industry in Scotland, Norway, and British Columbia dramatically expanded production in those regions, but because of more mechanization, added no new jobs or even decreased employment.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has been promoting offshore aquaculture – growing fish in nets or cages between three and 200 miles from shore – as the best way to increase U.S. seafood output. Since January 2007, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, one of eight regional councils Congress established to help manage U.S. fisheries, has been actively developing a plan to streamline the permitting and regulation of open water aquaculture.
“Rather than pressing forward with this plan, the U.S. government would best serve the public interest by delaying any move toward offshore aquaculture in the Gulf of Mexico until completion of comprehensive, peer-reviewed economic and environmental studies showing that it will not harm the economy or environment of the region” concluded Hauter.
The Food & Water Watch analysis, "Offshore Aquaculture: Bad News for the Gulf", is posted at http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/fish/pubs/reports/gulf_analysis
More information can be found at http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/fish/gulf