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Food & Water Watch: Ocean Fish Farms Will Not Eliminate Seafood Trade Deficit

April 8, 2008
1:50 PM

CONTACT: Food and Water Watch
Marianne Cufone or Erin Greenfield
(202) 683–2457

Ocean Fish Farms Will Not Eliminate Seafood Trade Deficit
New Food & Water Watch Report Reveals Truth Behind Offshore Aquaculture’s Fish Story

WASHINGTON, DC - April 8 - Commercial-scale open ocean aquaculture will not eliminate our seafood trade deficit despite government claims, according to a new report by Food & Water Watch. The report entitled Fish Story: Why Offshore Fish Farming Will Not Break U.S. Dependence on Imported Seafood, explains why ocean fish farming, the growing of fish in huge cages out in open ocean waters, will not reduce the $9.2 billion U.S. seafood trade deficit and in fact poses a grave threat to oceans, coastal communities and fishing.

“The U.S. government has been pushing to open public waters to an industry that has failed to demonstrate that the practice is environmentally sustainable, technically possible or financially viable on a commercial scale,” said Wenonah Hauter, Food & Water Watch Executive Director. “Offshore aquaculture will not solve our import problem and, furthermore, could threaten human health and the environment.” 

Fish Story examines seafood trade patterns and the track record of existing ocean fish farms to demonstrate how an expanded U.S. ocean fish farming industry is not likely to reduce U.S. dependence on seafood imports. According to the report, the United States exports more than 70 percent of its seafood to countries where it fetches the best prices. In turn, U.S. retailers buy their seafood from wherever they can get it cheapest, oftentimes in places with lower quality and health standards, such as China and Thailand.

“These trading patterns benefit the bottom lines of global seafood companies, and unfortunately, we consumers are the ones who lose out,” stated Hauter. “We are importing cheaper seafood that may have been produced in conditions that would not be legal in the United States. Add this to an inadequate food inspection program that inspects less than two percent of all imports, and we’re looking at a potential human health disaster.”

Likely fish grown in offshore aquaculture cages would follow the current export pattern, says Food & Water Watch, and the small quantity of newly farmed fish likely to be kept in this country would not offset the vast amount of fish imported. In order to help lessen the seafood trade deficit, Food & Water Watch recommends reducing U.S. reliance on imports by decreasing exports, and increasing domestic consumption of seafood that was caught in the United States. In fact U.S. fishermen already harvest enough fish to satisfy more than half of domestic consumption.

“Instead of using tax dollars to promote a new industry with known risks and questionable benefits, our government should focus its resources on protecting consumers from unsafe imports,” stated Hauter. “Our government needs to invest in a stronger import inspection program and promote safe and sustainable seafood for American consumers.” 

Among the facts highlighted in Food & Water Watch’s report are the following:

  • Only 19 percent (round weight) of the seafood available to U.S. consumers is from this country because the U.S. exports 71 percent (round weight) of U.S.–produced seafood.
  • We export 69 percent of U.S.–caught salmon, and only 20 percent of the salmon available to U.S. consumers is from the United States. However, 36 percent available is farmed from Chile where food safety and labor standards are questionable.
  • The United States has lost about 13 percent of its seafood processing and canning jobs in the past decade.
  • FDA allows about 98 percent of seafood imports to enter the country without inspection, increasing the chance that contaminated seafood will enter our food supply.

Fish Story: Why Offshore Fish Farming Will Not Break U.S. Dependence on Imported Seafood can be viewed at


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