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Setback for US federal fish farms

27 September 2018, at 3:35pm

Plans to allow aquaculture to take place in US federal waters received a setback yesterday after a coalition of fishing and public interest groups won a lawsuit challenging the Department of Commerce’s rules that would have permitted fish farms in the Gulf of Mexico.

The court action was led by the Center for Food Safety (CFS), whose legal director, George Kimbrell, said: “This is a landmark victory for protecting our oceans, for fishing communities and conservationists. Allowing industrial net-pen aquaculture and its known environmental harms in the Gulf of Mexico was a grave threat. Very simply, as the Court properly held, aquaculture is not ‘fishing.’ Such harm cannot be allowed under existing fisheries law never intended for that purpose.”

Open Blue farms cobia in Aquapods off Panama, but would not be permitted to do so in the US section of the Gulf of Mexico
Open Blue farms cobia in Aquapods off Panama, but would not be permitted to do so in the US section of the Gulf of Mexico

The rules challenged in the lawsuit focused on the Gulf of Mexico, but also could have paved the way for fish farm permits all around the US. The Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana ruled that existing fisheries management laws were never intended to regulate aquaculture, concluding that the Department of Commerce “acted outside of its statutory authority”.

Marianne Cufone, local counsel and executive director of the Recirculating Farms Coalition (RFC), said: “This ruling makes clear that existing fisheries law cannot be manipulated to develop and expand marine finfish farming in the Gulf or other US waters. Now we can focus on stopping Congress from passing new laws to promote this outdated and unnecessary industry.”

Since the 1980s, Congress has periodically attempted to pass laws promoting marine finfish farms, but all failed following public opposition. Federal agencies then tried to permit fish farms under existing fisheries management laws. The lawsuit stopped that, but Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi then introduced the Advancing the Quality and Understanding of American Aquaculture (AQUAA) Act and a similar bill is expected in the House of Representatives soon, which RFC and others now pledge to fight.

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