For Immediate Release
Gulf Council Does Not Approve Ocean Fish Farming Plan
Final Vote Delayed After Immense Public Opposition and Congressional Concern
WASHINGTON - Food & Water Watch, a national consumer advocacy organization, along with an unusual coalition of fishermen, conservation groups, many concerned citizens, and a key member of Congress, helped in moving the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council to delay final action on a plan to permit ocean fish farming in Gulf waters until January 2009. The Council received a letter from the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee, Congressman Nick Rahall (D-WV), urging "the Council and NOAA to halt any further development of the draft aquaculture plan," and more than 16,000 comments from the public in opposition to the plan.
"The plan is certainly not ready for final approval," said Marianne Cufone, director of the fish program at Food & Water Watch, who attended the Gulf Council meeting in Mobile, Alabama. "The Council was still making substantive changes to their document on Tuesday, and they continue to receive letters detailing concerns from an assortment of entities, including the Environmental Protection Agency."
There has been discussion of ocean fish farming in the Gulf since 2002, when the first aquaculturist was appointed to the Council. The plan was delayed back in 2004 for several years, then re-written and re-introduced to the public in January 2007. The Council initially intended to fast-track approval of that new plan just nine months later in October, but overwhelming public opposition stopped it. The Council had planned for final approval again at their meeting this week in Mobile, Alabama, but legal counsel advised against it for various reasons.
Many people spoke directly to the Council about their concerns with the plan at the meeting and thousands of letters were submitted in opposition. Some specific problems include: the plan has no guarantees that there will be public benefits from exclusive use of common resources for private profit, no specific limits on pollution discharge, no details on where the fish farms can be located, and allows oil rigs to be used for aquaculture. Repeatedly, the legal authority to permit ocean fish farms through the Council process was questioned.
"We have been concerned with the long-term implications of the plan, especially impacts on consumers' health, socio-economic ramifications for coastal communities and disruption of the natural environment," said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. "We hope that between now and the January meeting, the Council will recognize that this offshore aquaculture plan should not move forward."