Obama Administration Allows Factory Fish Farms in Gulf of Mexico

For Immediate Release

Organization Profile: 
Contact: 

Marianne Cufone, (813) 785-8386, mcufone@fwwatch.org
Erica Schuetz, (202) 683-4903, eschuetz@fwwatch.org

Obama Administration Allows Factory Fish Farms in Gulf of Mexico

Statement of Food & Water Watch Fish Program Director Marianne Cufone

WASHINGTON - "Today, the very agency tasked with conservation and management of
our national fish resources, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS),
failed to protect fishing communities and the marine environment by
allowing an unpopular and potentially harmful ocean fish farming plan
for the Gulf of Mexico to pass into effect. NMFS was involved for the
entire five years this plan was under discussion, and had since January
of 2009 to decide whether ocean fish farming is the right thing to do
for the Gulf. Time for indecision ran out today. Rather than taking a
stand, the agency looked the other way and chose to stay silent,
letting the plan pass by default. The agency's silence is a choice in
itself: to allow development of what are essentially factory farms of
the sea-dirty, crowded mass-production facilities that can harm the
environment and produce lower-quality fish for consumers. The plan
lacks specifics about important issues: unknown types of facilities
will be able to grow unspecified types of fish in locations approved by
NMFS on a case-by-case basis, from three to 200 miles offshore in the
Gulf. The development of these facilities will likely cause major
ecological problems, and could undercut prices local fishermen receive
for their catch, threatening an already vulnerable job market.

"In
addition to the overwhelming public opposition to this plan, its
legality is highly questionable. Under existing federal law, the Gulf
of Mexico Fishery Management Council and NMFS do not have the authority
to permit ocean fish farming.

"Further, offshore fish farming
is not the solution to the nation's demand for seafood. A May 2008
report by the Government Accountability Office points out significant
environmental concerns associated with ocean fish farming that have not
yet been addressed. Problems include: flow of concentrated amounts of
fish food, wastes, and any chemicals or antibiotics that may be used in
farms straight into ocean waters; escaped farmed fish intermixing with
or outcompeting wild fish for food and habitat; the spread of parasites
and disease to wild populations; effects on predators and marine
mammals, and others. Existing offshore farm facilities in Hawaii state
waters have proven extremely unpopular with native Hawaiian fishermen
and many others, for failing to recognize and respect cultural and
historic ocean uses and impacts to the marine environment.

"Better
alternatives exist for meeting the ever-rising demand for seafood and
growing a cleaner, greener, safer seafood production industry to
supplement, rather than overtake, wild-catch fisheries in the U.S. 
Land-based, recirculating aquaculture systems-commonly called RAS-are
closed-loop facilities that retain and treat the water in the system.
This method of fish farming can reduce discharge of waste, the need for
antibiotics or chemicals used to combat disease, and fish and parasite
escapes. RAS are not connected to open waters, and therefore can be
used to grow a wide range of plants and fish without threatening the
environment or competing with fishermen. Innovative technologies are
being used to reduce energy usage and wild fish in feed for RAS.
"Rather than pushing an ocean fish farming industry forward that
is likely to undermine ecosystems health and local jobs, NMFS and other
agencies should work to promote a more sustainable option, like RAS."

To read Food & Water Watch's comment letter on the Gulf Offshore Aquaculture Plan, visit http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/fish/fish-farming/offshore/Gulf-OOA-Comment-Letter or contact eschuetz@fwwatch.org for a digital copy.

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Food & Water Watch is a nonprofit consumer organization that works to ensure clean water and safe food. We challenge the corporate control and abuse of our food and water resources by empowering people to take action and by transforming the public consciousness about what we eat and drink.

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