US offshore plan faces legal challenge

PLANS to develop fish farming in the Gulf of Mexico have come under fire from several groups – and could face legal challenges.
The plans were announced last week by the US National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the hope of weaning America away from its huge fish import bill.
However, since the announcement various US consumer, environmental and sustainable fishing and farming organisations expressed their strong opposition to new federal regulations that permit development of industrial fish farms offshore in US waters.
The new rules will allow up to 20 facilities and 64 million pounds (lbs) of fish to be produced each year in the Gulf.
Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch, said: ‘Just like factory farms on land, industrial offshore fish farms risk the health and welfare of communities, the environment and wildlife. This plan to allow a private industry to abuse our public resources must stop now.’
Marianne Cufone, long-time fisheries expert, environmental attorney and executive director of the Recirculating Farms Coalition, said: ‘Offshore industrial fish farming is outdated and unnecessary.
‘The Coalition uses on-land farming techniques that reuse water and wastes in closed-loop systems to raise fish.’
She said it took nearly 11 years to finalise this law but too much had changed for it to be relevant now.
The protesters maintain that the Gulf of Mexico has changed significantly, with the effects on fisheries, habitat and communities from hurricanes such as Katrina in 2005, and the 2010 oil spill, all still emerging.
Industrial, open-ocean aquaculture has also proved to be environmentally damaging. Major problems include the release of untreated waste; increased risks of diseases and parasites in wild fish by transmission from farmed fish; risks from drugs and chemicals, such as antibiotics and hormones, entering natural waters; and escapes of farmed fish altering wild populations.
Cages used to contain fish are flow-through, meaning anything from the pens – excess feed, fish wastes, and any chemicals – can go directly into Gulf waters, claim the protesters.
Cufone said: ‘The Gulf of Mexico is still recovering from hurricanes and the 2010 oil spill; we don’t need more problems from fish farms.’
In addition to concerns about harm to the environment and local businesses, the process used to create the regulation was unusual and legally questionable, it was claimed.
Rather than passing a law specifically to regulate aquaculture, the agencies used existing fishing laws to manage this new and fundamentally different activity, industrial aquaculture, as ‘fishing’.
‘Worse, while only the Gulf of Mexico is affected by the new regulation right now, the law-making process could be replicated in other parts of the country to allow industrial fish farms elsewhere,’ said Cufone.
‘This is a misguided decision,’ said George Kimbrell, senior attorney from the Centre for Food Safety.
‘We need to better manage and protect our native fisheries, not adopt destructive industrial practices that put them at risk.’
The groups are collectively analysing their legal options to challenge the new regulations.