|This image, released by Ocean Farm Technologies (OFT) in Searsmont, Maine, shows an AquaPod, a unique containment system for marine aquaculture, suited for rough open ocean conditions and a diversity of species. US government and industry leaders are urging a headlong plunge into ocean fish farming to meet surging global demand, even as environmental activists call for a go-slow approach.|
A two-day aquaculture summit hosted by the US Commerce Department in Washington last month, brought together advocates of a broader push into fish farming as lawmakers push to facilitate ocean farms similar to those used in Asia, Norway and Chile.
Backers of aquaculture point out that with wild fish stocks declining around the world, nearly half the seafood on people's tables comes from farms.
About 90 per cent of farmed seafood comes from Asia.
The United States accounts for less that two percent of the 70 billion-dollar global business, said Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, noting projections of a global shortfall of 40 million tons of seafood by 2030.
"We have an eight billion-dollar seafood trade deficit," he said. "We need both a strong commercial fishing industry and a robust aquaculture industry. Given the projections, there is plenty of room for both industries."
In the United States, most fish farms are land-based tanks, with a few ocean operations for shellfish such as oysters, clams and mussels. However, legislation introduced in Congress would allow the US government to issue offshore aquaculture permits and provide incentives for research and set environmental standards.
Backers of aquaculture say the business can also be a blessing for coastal communities hurt by cutbacks in fishing due to new quotas to prevent depletion of fisheries.
The push for more aquaculture has posed a dilemma for environmentalists, who worry about pollution from farms, diseases from escaped fish and other potential impacts on wild species. At the same time, most activists recognize that overfishing of wild species is a problem that can only be alleviated through increases in farming of fish.
"If it happens we want to make sure its done in the most sustainable way," said the Ocean Conservancy's Tim Eichenberg, who attended the Washington summit.
Eichenberg said strong US environmental standards could help encourage better practices in other countries.