Analysis of Fish Farming Bill (S1195)
The National Offshore Aquaculture Act of 2005
This form of aquaculture involves the raising of carnivorous finfish, such as cod, halibut, and red snapper, in often large, crowded cages with fish waste and chemicals that flush straight into the open ocean. These ocean feed-lots not only raise concerns about pollution, they could also potentially introduce non-native and genetically-modified fish into the ecosystem, which can threaten wild fish populations.
We need to better understand how these corporate fish farms affect human health, the economies of local fishing communities, marine mammals, endangered species, birds, wild fish stock, and essential fish habitat.
Unfortunately, the bill does not take a look-before-you-leap approach to offshore fish farms , delaying the construction until their potential problems are identified, studied and resolved, as already required by some Federal proposals. Instead, S.1195 allows the Secretary of Commerce (Secretary), in consultation with other Federal agencies, to fast-track the permitting of fish farms with little criteria for protecting the environment, local fishing communities, or consumers.
Specific Problems with S.1195
- Deficient Environmental Review. NOAA‚ legislative proposal failed to include a Legislative Environmental Impact Statement (LEIS), as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).1 An LEIS is needed so that Congress can adequately assess the effects of offshore fish farming since the bill fails to require any study of aquaculture‚ environmental effects.
- No Planning Requirements. Unlike what has recently been instituted by other nations,2 the bill fails to require any mapping, planning, or zoning to minimize conflicting uses or protect sensitive areas and ecosystems.3
- Allows the Secretary to Ignore Environmental Problems Associated with Aquaculture. Except for permit conditions already required by law, the Secretary is given complete discretion to determine the environmental criteria, if any, that are applicable to aquaculture facilities.4 There is no requirement to mitigate problems that aquaculture facilities pose to wild fish stock, ecosystems, water quality and habitat, marine wildlife, or endangered species.5
- Allows the Issuance of Long-Term Permits with Few Conditions to Large-Scale Facilities. The Secretary is given total discretion to approve aquaculture siting- and operating-permit terms, conditions, and restrictions.6 The Secretary has complete discretion to review and determine permit criteria changes and suspensions.7 All permits are required to be ten-years long and at the end of the ten-year term, they can be extended for another five years, ad infinitum, at the complete discretion of the Secretary.8 A permit may only be revoked prior to expiration if the permit holder conducts an unlawful activity or fails to pay a civil or criminal fine.9 Even in this case, no revocation or suspension of a permit is mandated.10
- Allows Aquaculture Farms on Oil and Gas Rigs. Aquaculture facilities are allowed on and within one mile of oil and gas rigs.11
- Inadequate Monitoring. The bill provides no requirements for the monitoring of environmental problems that are caused by aquaculture projects.12 No tagging, tracking, or monitoring of farmed fish is required to assist wild fish management, assess liability for damage caused by escaped fish, or consumer protection.13
- Deficient Enforcement. Bonds are not required to cover clean-up costs or damage done by escaped fish or by the spread of disease.14 No right-of-action is given to citizens to enforce the statute, leaving the burden to already under-funded and overworked federal agencies.
2 See e.g., Norway, which between 1987 and 1990, assessed the suitability of its coastal zone and rivers for aquaculture. As part of its study, it developed siting selection criteria and a procedure for establishing the gross available capacity for aquaculture production. Cecin-Sain, B., Bunsick, S.M., DeVoe, R., Eichenberg, T., Ewart, J., Halvorson, H., Knecht R.W., Rheault, R., Development of a Policy Framework for Offshore Marine Aquaculture in the 3-200 Mile U.S. Ocean Zone, July 2001, p. 107, 135, downloaded from http://www.lib.noaa.gov/docaqua/reports_noaaresearch/sgeez1final.pdf, on 25, July 2005.
3 See S.1195, Section 5 (b) (1), which gives the authority, but provides no mandate to the Secretary to collect information needed to evaluate the suitability of sites for offshore aquaculture.
4 See S.1195, Sections 5 (a).
5 Id. Upon introduction, Senator Inouye and Stevens introduced an amendment that requires the Secretary to address the environmental risks and impacts associated with aquaculture facilities, but does nothing to ensure that harms to the environment are minimized. See SA 767.
6 S.1195 Sections 4 (b) (1), (2); 4 (c) (1).
7 Id. at Section 4 (g).
8 Id. at Section 4 (b) (3).
9 Id. at Section 11 (c) (1).
10 Id. at Section 11 (c) (1) (C).
11 Id. at Section 4 (a) (2); (b) (3).
12 See id. at Section 5 (b) (2), authorizing, but not mandating regulations for monitoring and evaluation of compliance with the provisions of the operating and site permits.
13 See id. at Section (4) (a) (4), allowing, but not mandating the tracking of fish from the aquaculture facilities.
14 See id. at Section 4 (f) (2), mandating the Secretary to collect bonds or other financial guarantees, but giving the Secretary complete discretion to determine the amount of such guarantee and what constitutes ‚other financial risks” to be covered.