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Gulf Aquaculture Plans Flawed, say Critics

US - The first of five public hearings across the Gulf Region regarding a plan to open the Gulf of Mexico to industrial fish farming will be in January 2008.

Hundreds of commercial and recreational fisher men, concerned citizens, and others from the region are expected to voice their concerns about the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council Generic Offshore Aquaculture Amendment at hearings in Houston, Texas; St. Petersburg, Florida; New Orleans, Louisiana; Biloxi, Mississippi and Mobile, Alabama.

The public hearings are a result of immense public pressure at the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council meeting on 31 October in Biloxi, Mississippi. Then many people pushed for more public input on the Council’s plan to allow open water aquaculture in the Gulf –– growing fish in nets or cages between three and 200 miles from shore.

“The Gulf Council has fast-tracked their plan since January, and has not fully considered the impacts on the entire Gulf region,” said Wenonah Hauter, the executive director of Food & Water Watch. “These hearings will allow citizens in the Gulf to participate in the decision process, and determine what the Council’s plan means to their region and their future.”

Bad news

According to a Food & Water Watch analysis, "Offshore Aquaculture: Bad News for the Gulf", open offshore aquaculture could threaten the half a billion dollar a year commercial fishing industries and the more than five billion dollars of annual economic activity connected to recreational fishing in the region.

“This week we have a chance to speak out against a plan that disregards its impact on local industry,” said Margaret Curole, of Commercial Fishermen of America. “We cannot afford to support an industry that threatens our community, our economy, and our livelihoods.”

Louis Skrmetta, a charter boat operator from Mississippi agrees: “The Council’s plan leaves out too many important details for it to move forward as-is. There are no specifics about where these farms will be located, where food for the fish will come from, how the facilities will affect existing water uses - it is a significant threat to our Gulf.”

Harmful environmental impacts that could be caused by offshore aquaculture could further damage the economic wellbeing of the Gulf region. Kristina Jackson, with the National Sierra Club, emphasizes that healthy ocean resources are essential to healthy communities: “Chemicals, pesticides, and other toxins that might be used in aquaculture facilities will wreak havoc on marine ecosystems. With so many people dependent on the Gulf for food and recreation, how can we risk having this environment destroyed?”

“Fortunately, people have the opportunity to voice their concerns about open ocean aquaculture over the next few days,” states Hauter. “The Gulf Council needs to listen to the public and do more research on the potential damage to coastal communities and the marine environment before moving forward with this flawed plan.”

Click here for a schedule and location of the proposed public hearings.

Further Reading

- To read a previous news item on this story click here.
- To view the report 'Bad News for the Gulf' click here.