Fishy Farms: The Government’s Push for Factory Farming in Our Oceans
Over the past decade, people have become increasingly conscious about the environmental, cultural and economic repercussions of their food choices, and a movement has emerged to support more diverse, sustainable options. This movement has extended to choices about seafood, as people take note of issues such as overfishing and the environmental ramifications of different types of fish farming.
Despite this, the U.S. government continues to subsidize the development of open ocean aquaculture, a type of factory farming that threatens the health of our oceans, coastal communities and consumers. Factory fish farming involves the production of as many as tens of thousands of fish in cages off the coastline.
This report revisits the four U.S. taxpayer-supported factory fish farming experiments — in Hawaii, New Hampshire and Puerto Rico — that are described in Food & Water Watch’s previous reports, Seas of Doubt and the first edition of Fishy Farms. Because all of these research and demonstration projects have previously received government funding to advance the industry, we have traced the operations’ histories for lessons that can be drawn about the feasibility of ocean fish farming.
The results are bleak. This newest update finds that despite having as many as 13 years to overcome setbacks, the farms have been largely unsuccessful, facing some combination of technical, economic or environmental setbacks. They have experienced fish escapes, equipment failure and community opposition. In some cases, the problems have caused the operations to relocate, scale-back, sell out to other companies or even stop production altogether. Operations that have since been proposed have had difficulty securing permits and community support.
Even as new information about these facilities continues to demonstrate that their feasibility is uncertain, the data is becoming clearer about their potential impacts . A leading argument used to promote factory fish farming is that we need it to offset the U .S . seafood trade deficit — that is, to import less seafood and produce more seafood for local consumption . A Food & Water Watch analysis finds that to do this through factory fish farming, however, would require an almost unimaginable 200 million fish to be produced in ocean cages each year. This would call for approximately 41 percent of the entire global production of fishmeal to be used as feed, could produce as much nitrogenous waste as the untreated sewage from a city nearly nine times more populous than the city of Los Angeles and could lead to the escapement of as many as 34 .8 million fish (if conditions are unfavorable) or 1–2 million fish (if conditions are ideal) into our oceans in one year alone.
Despite years of opposition from consumers, environmentalists and coastal communities, as well as increasing evidence that this type of farming is infeasible and irresponsible, the federal government, under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), has continued to sink resources to support this industry and develop a policy for it. The government already has spent over $44 million in support of the troubled industry. During a time when people are pushing to trim the federal budget, NOAA continues to request money to support ocean fish farming — money that could be more wisely spent supporting job creation and economic growth in other areas.
After more than a decade of setbacks, it is time for the U .S. government to recognize that factory fish farming is not the solution for increasing seafood safety and availability. NOAA must stop taking money away from improving the sustainability of our wild fisheries. Congress should act to prevent federal agencies from fast-tracking the development of the industry. The international community already has learned that large-scale, industrial, land-based agriculture cannot solve all economic and food security problems. When it comes to seafood and our oceans, we should take a lesson and avoid repeating the same mistakes.