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Big push to expand aquaculture

US - Offshore fish farms could be down in the deep within two years if legislation authorizing the new industry gets the go ahead from Congress - and according to industry insiders, it is expected to pass easily.

Rep. Nick J. Rahall (D-WV), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, announced last week that, at the request of the Bush Administration, he will introduce the National Offshore Aquaculture Act to Congress to help establish the new industry. The legislation would create a regulatory framework for fish and shellfish farming in U.S. waters from three to 200 miles offshore.

The big push towards expanding aquaculture stems primarily from the nation's $8 billion seafood trade deficit. More than 70 percent of the seafood eaten by Americans is imported from foreign countries. Globally, more than half of all seafood production comes from aquaculture.

Legislating the offshore industry flies in the face of Alaska's federal and state lawmakers. Senator Murkowski and Governor Palin have asked for a five year ban on offshore fish farming to allow time for more environmental and economic studies. Palin also wants a ban on farming certain species like halibut and sablefish, along with subsidies for the fishing industry to compensate for competition from U.S. backed fish farms.

But like it or not, the new industry is poised to move forward fast, and Alaska better pay attention.

"The world is experiencing an aquaculture revolution. Regardless of whether or not we have interest ourselves, we should be paying very close attention to what's happening so we can anticipate where our global markets are likely to be in the future," said Gunnar Knapp, an economist at the University of Alaska Institute of Social and Economic Research.

Since the late 1980s Alaska has had a ban on fish farming of any kind. Knapp said he is not advocating rushing into aquaculture, nor does he believe Alaska should shut the door to the possibility of changes in the future.

"With any kind of resource development, what are the potential opportunities that we might take advantage of, responsibility and safely?

"My feeling is that we should go on more than a gut feeling and a knee jerk reaction of no change from where we are at the moment, to looking at the available evidence with regard to both environmental and market concerns and be sure we're making the right decision," he said.

"It strikes me as a little incongruous that we would take this attitude of no finfish farming whatsoever under any circumstances, and yet we have a very extensive salmon hatchery program that is of great economic benefit. We've made the judgment that any environmental or ecological risks are reasonable and controllable," he added.

Knapp said it is reasonable for Alaska to focus on its wild fisheries and strive to maximize that value.

"But does that preclude any involvement in finfish aquaculture? There's been a fear in Alaska that fish farming would negatively impact our reputation as the place to get wild seafood. I think it is fair to ask -- what is the evidence one way or the other? Are the values of wild fisheries in Norway and British Columbia reduced because they also are major aquaculture producers? Is there a negative market affect?"

Knapp said he finds it interesting that Alaska bristles when others try and dictate what's best for our state, yet Alaskans are now doing that to others.

"It is interesting that Alaska is now telling other states what they should or should not do with aquaculture. I believe in the concept of local control and letting people make their own decisions, both for Alaska and other places," he said.

Source: SitNews

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