Friday, June 10, 2011

New federal aquaculture policy paves way for Gulf of Mexico fish farms


Posted:   Friday, June 10, 2011 

HTTP://SEAFOOD.COM NEWS [Times-Picayune] By Benjamin Alexander-Bloch - June 10, 2011 -
© 2010 New Orleans Net LLC.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's national aquaculture policy released Thursday paves the way for the Gulf of Mexico to be the first region in the country to develop open-ocean aquaculture in federal waters, potentially reaping another 64 million pounds of seafood from the ocean.

Within a year, businesses could begin applying for permits to establish red snapper, grouper and other finfish-farms in Gulf federal waters, which in Louisiana extend from three to 200 miles offshore.

In 2009, the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council, a regional advisory body that sets fishing regulations in the Gulf for NOAA's Fisheries Service, established its Gulf fish-farming plan. But the plan has sat, officially in place but unusable, awaiting formal NOAA regulations.

The Gulf council's plan calls for 10-year offshore fish-farm permits with a total cap on farmed fish production at 64 million pounds. The council initially expected about five to 20 such operations to emerge within the first 10 years, but with start-up costs estimated in the $5 million to $10 million range, the level of interest largely is unknown.

The plan prohibits shrimp farming, and only allows the raising of native Gulf species.

Michael Rubino, the manager of NOAA's aquaculture program, said the Gulf council plan will go through a typical, multi-tiered review process that will culminate in a public comment period. He said that process likely would take about a year to complete and largely would only focus on implementation, with the nuts and bolts of the plan remaining untouched.

The federal government has promoted aquaculture over the past few years as a way to address the growing amount of imported seafood needed to keep pace with demand in the United States.

Approximately 84 percent of the seafood consumed in the United States is imported, with about half of that from aquaculture farms in other countries, according to U.S Department of Commerce.

In 2009, the same year the Gulf council plan was drafted, aquaculture crossed the threshold of providing more than half of all seafood consumed worldwide, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

That means more than half of the fish and shellfish consumed globally is now raised by humans and no longer caught in the wild. In 1970, farmed fish only accounted for about 6 percent of global seafood supply.

So far in U.S. federal waters, the aquaculture industry largely is limited to a few experimental and research facilities. Other countries have developed the industry on a wider scale, some using industrial-scale nets and submersible cages to raise and harvest fish for commercial sale.

Opponents have cited wide-ranging concerns about damage to the Gulf's environment, as well as the effect the industry could have on traditional fishing communities that have relied on catching and selling wild fish. But supporters say the industry could provide an alternative domestic supply to imported, farm-raised seafood.

Domestic aquaculture provides only about 5 percent of the seafood consumed in the U.S, according to Larry Robinson, NOAA's assistant secretary of commerce for conservation and management. And about 80 percent of domestic marine aquaculture consists of shellfish, mainly oysters, clams and mussels, Rubino said.

Also as a part of NOAA's marine aquaculture policy, it has developed general guidelines to provide technical support and competitive grants for farming close to the shore and technologies on land, such as ponds or recirculating tanks to raise fish.

The NOAA policy also places a premium on increasing commercial production of shellfish, restoring shellfish populations and habitats, and improving water quality.

And Eric Schwaab, the head of NOAA's Fisheries Service, said on Thursday that the Gulf council plan and the effort to increase shellfish farming and restoration are the two initiatives 'that will grow immediately' out of the implementation of NOAA's new aquaculture policy.

'The Gulf is recovering from hurricanes and an oil spill and fresh water diversions down the Mississippi River, so rebuilding the Gulf will be a priority over the next several years,' Rubino said.

Ken Coons

1 comment:

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