Aquaculture for all

Gulf Fish Farm Plans Attacked


US - Citing environmental concerns and regulatory issues, US Rep. Gene Taylor and 36 other U.S. lawmakers have asked the U.S. Department of Commerce to reject a controversial plan to allow fish farms in the Gulf of Mexico.

The lawmakers sent a letter Friday to U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Gary Locke in opposition to a Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council plan. The council — which includes representatives from Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana, Florida and Alabama — approved the plan in January in Bay St. Louis following months of heated debate and objection from charter boat fishermen and environmental groups, among others.

Former President George W. Bush’s administration spawned the offshore aquaculture initiatives several years ago and the Department of Commerce has to approve the council’s plan, which establishes a permitting process for such operations. In the letter, the bipartisan group of lawmakers asked the Commerce Department to work with them to create a system that deals with their worries.

“The potential impacts of this industry and the many unknown factors necessitate precaution, not hasty development,” lawmakers wrote.

“Therefore, we urge you to disapprove the council’s offshore aquaculture plan and work with Congress to develop a comprehensive regulatory program that will address these concerns.”

The measure allows fish to be raised in pens as far as 200 miles out in federal waters off the coasts of Mississippi and other states. Companies could get permits to annually raise and kill up to 64 million pounds of grouper, cobia and other fish currently only found in the wild, officials told the Sun Herald in January.

The members of Congress worry water pollution caused by the waste materials and chemicals might hurt the environment and some diseases could also be transmitted to wild fish. There is also the fear some species could escape and harm wild fish populations. The lawmakers said they were also concerned about fish farms using wild forage for food.

Members of Congress said the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act gives the authority to the National Marine Fisheries Service and the council to manage fishing activities, but Congress didn’t intend to give those regulatory bodies power to oversee fish farming. They say the plan would “lay the groundwork for a fragmented regulatory system for offshore aquaculture in the United States that threatens marine ecosystems, wild fish and coastal communities.”

Taylor could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon. A spokesperson said he was visiting troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington and wouldn’t be available until after deadline.

No other members of Mississippi’s Congressional delegation put their signatures to the letter, but lawmakers from several other Gulf Coast states, including Texas and Louisiana as well as other parts of the country, signed it.

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