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EPA targets fish farms with permits

IDAHO - Federal environmental officials have a new permitting process designed to cut down on pollution that trout farms and other aquaculture producers discharge into the Snake River.

The Environmental Protection Agency permits, scheduled to take effect Dec. 1, require the industry to reduce by 40 percent the amount of phosphorus - a chemical byproduct of fish feces - discharged into the river, which flows across southern Idaho.

"These fish processors under rules of the old permit didn't have a phosphorus limit, but now they do," said Sharon Wilson, the EPA specialist who helped write the new rules.

The permits are written to cover aquaculture producers in every corner of Idaho, the nation's leading producer of commercial rainbow trout.

But the area of biggest concern is a 55-mile stretch of the Snake River downstream from Twin Falls, the epicenter of the state's $90 million per year farm-raised trout, catfish, caviar and alligator industry.

For decades, federal and state environmental regulators have sought to reduce the amount of phosphorus discharged by the industry, as well as by farmers and public waste treatment facilities.

Phosphorus is blamed for fueling algae blooms and excessive weed growth, diminishing water quality and reducing oxygen levels critical to wild fish and other aquatic life.

Government and industry officials say the new rules will affect producers in different ways.

Source: News & Observer