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Consumer Group Challenges Gulf Fish Farm Plans

US - Gulf of Mexico fishery managers can not legally move forward on a plan to allow development of large scale fish farms in the region, says Food & Water Watch (FWW).

According to public comments submitted today by the consumer advocacy group, the law does not allow businesses to sanction such developments - which FWW deems 'risky'.

 "The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council and National Marine Fisheries Service are supposed to conserve and manage our US fish resources. The federal law that gives them authority to regulate fish and fishing was not intended to govern risky industrial facilities like ocean fish farming", said Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director.

Ocean fish farming has been a hot topic in recent years. Since 2005, national legislation to allow ocean fish farming country-wide has been pending in Congress. Assorted commercial, recreational, conservation, and consumer groups have opposed the legislation due to insufficient protections for existing resources and potential negative impacts to coastal communities.

Federal fish managers, tired of waiting for a comprehensive national policy to be approved by Congress, opted to try setting up fish farms through regional fishery management processes. The Gulf of Mexico is the first location to develop regulations for an ocean fish farming industry in federal waters. National Marine Fisheries Service staff have stated that other regional councils are expected to follow with similar plans if the Gulf plan goes through.

"The Gulf Council has a number of members with aquaculture interests", said Food & Water Watch staff attorney Zach Corrigan. "They are trying to cobble together a plan for fish farming that is severely lacking in content, primarily because they just don't have the legal authority necessary to include what needs to be included in a comprehensive aquaculture regime."

The Gulf aquaculture plan lacks important details about a wide range of issues including where the farms will be located, use of old oil rigs as a part of farms, using wild fish to feed farmed fish, economic protections for fishermen, and safeguards for important habitat.

"The Council and National Marine Fisheries Service need to rethink their Gulf plan and take a hard look at the legal authority under which they are proceeding." Hauter said.

Food and Water Watch will be monitoring the Gulf Council process on the ocean fish farming plan as it develops. The plan is scheduled to be finalized in April 2008.

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Ellen Hardy

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