Imports Fuel Push for U.S. Ocean Fish Farms

The Fish Site
by The Fish Site
16 July 2007, at 1:00am

US - Fishermen who offload at Shrimp Landing in Crystal River, Fla., could share the Gulf of Mexico someday with huge cages growing what they now go out and catch.

Robert Gill, owner of the fish house and commercial dock, said fishermen might fret about competition from fish farming if they weren't so worried about dwindling domestic stocks and rising imports that now account for 80 percent of seafood on American plates.

About half of those imports come from foreign fish farms. The United States shares less than 1 percent of a $70 billion global aquaculture business. To Gill that means the United States is letting a big catch get away.

Pressure on domestic seafood from imports prompted Congress last week to inch toward allowing fish farms in federal waters, a debate that has lingered for years. People on all sides of the issue say open-ocean aquaculture off the U.S. coast is a matter of when and how, not if, given America's place in the global seafood market.

"If that's to be permitted," said Gill, a member of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, "one has to be concerned with what can we allow and what we must not allow."

The United States has been paralyzed by fears about environmental contamination, food safety and competition with fishermen. A coalition of fishing groups, mostly from Alaska, and watchdog groups opposes legislation pressed by the Bush administration to open federal waters to fish farming.

A similar bill sank last year, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration last week gave significant ground that could quiet some complaints. Federal officials and observers said the concession reflects the importance of moving forward, and it increases the odds that legislation will pass this time.

Moreover, the Gulf council held public hearings last week on its own proposal to allow aquaculture in federal waters off Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida. If the council adopts the plan, it could force federal action on rules to employ its proposal.

Source: TheLedger