Sigh. NOAA‚ at it once again. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, has the bright idea of promoting open ocean aquaculture as a way to reduce the country‚ $9.2 billion seafood trade deficit and ease pressures on decimated wild marine fish populations. The government has spent more than $25 million supporting four experimental fish farms, as well as research into this technology, which involves growing tens of thousands of fish in cages anchored to the seafloor between three and 200 miles off the U.S. coast. The government wants to open public waters for the potential construction of thousands of these cages. Sounds like a good plan in theory, but wait. Despite this substantial financial and political support, open ocean aquaculture has not been shown to be environmentally sustainable, financially viable, or technically possible on a commercial scale. In fact, each of the four taxpayer-supported experimental operations—in Hawaii, New Hampshire, and Puerto Rico—continues to be plagued by problems. For instance, cages and other equipment have broken, fish have died on a large scale, and sharks have threatened workers (surprise). At one aquaculture facility, each pound of fish sold costs about $3,000 in U.S. taxpayer money to produce. Ouch.
Matter of fact, the government‚ own researchers say that open ocean fish farms could cause the same kind of problems linked to near-shore salmon farms, which dump chemical-laden waste directly into the ocean, produce fish that contain PCBs and other toxins, release genetically inferior fish that might mate with wild fish, and use massive amounts of fishmeal made from depleted wild fish stocks.
At this point, you might be asking yourself, “What can be done” ?
- For starters, get the facts about fish farming in our new report, Fishy Farms.
- You can help keep our ocean clean and safe by telling Congress to protect our oceans, coastal communities, and seafood safety.
- If you happen to be in the Gulf in December, feel free to attend one of our public hearings to let the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council know how you feel about commercial-scale fish farming in the Gulf of Mexico. While you’re at it, kick back and listen to the Gulf Council’s proposal in Issue 18 of SnackCast.
- And last but not least, make sustainable choices when choosing your favorite seafood dinner with our handy wallet-sized smart seafood guide.