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Offshore fish farms raise growing list of concerns

US - Bill Hogarth, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) director, sees a future where offshore aquaculture complements the commercial fishing industry in meeting the growing demand for seafood in the United States.

Offshore aquaculture cages used by Cates International Inc. in Hawaii.

"We need to stop perpetuating the misconceptions that are circulating about aquaculture," Hogarth said during a teleconference from the International Boston Seafood Show Monday afternoon.

"It is not a competition between wild harvesting and aquaculture. Fishing and aquaculture are complementary technologies," he said, shortly after United States Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez unveiled the National Offshore Aquaculture Act of 2007.

The Bush administration's proposed legislation would open federal waters, from three to 200 miles off the United States coast, to aquaculture operations using large submerged cages and remote control feeding devices to grow fish.

Worldwide, fish farming is a $70 billion industry that has exploded in countries like China, India, Thailand, Vietnam and Ecuador.

More than 80 percent of all seafood consumed in the United States is imported. Shrimp tops the list of imports, while tuna holds the second spot.

Half of the imports coming into the United States come from fish farms.

The Bush administration says that allowing offshore aquaculture will turn the United States into a major player in the farm-raised seafood industry and will reduce the country's annual $8 billion seafood trade deficit.

"With offshore aquaculture, seafood production jobs can stay in the United States," Hogarth said on Monday.

Acknowledging that investments in large-cage offshore operations extend beyond the financial resources of many commercial fishermen, Hogarth noted that researchers are working on developing less expensive technology.

"And, some fishermen could use their vessels to participate in aquaculture between fishing seasons," he continued, adding that aquaculture's "economic ripple effect" will benefit coastal communities.

Still, Outer Banks commercial fishermen predict aquaculture's biggest economic waves will break far from home, leaving wild-harvesters here in the wash of increased marketplace competition.

Source: OUTER BANKS Sentinel

the Fish Site Editor

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