June 1, 2010

Aquaculture Bill to Protect Ocean Ecosystem

Dave Love

Dave Love

Associate Scientist, Public Health & Sustainable Aquaculture Project

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

A new aquaculture bill entitled the “Research and Aquaculture Opportunity and Responsibility Act” introduced last week by Senator by David Vitter (Louisiana) is worthy of support. As described in the press release, the bill calls for a 3.5 year delay on new offshore aquaculture permitting. The bill would require a report to Congress on the environmental risks, economic impacts and regulatory guidelines for offshore aquaculture.

fish farm, Scotland creative commons

fish farm in Scotland; creative commons

The US lags behind other countries, like Norway, Chile and the UK, in marine aquaculture production, and this bill would further delay activity. Understanding the risks of offshore aquaculture has long-term benefits that may be difficult to quantify, at least compared to the more immediate profits from fish sales. It is important, however, to conduct such research to ensure the health of our waters and sustainability of our fisheries.

The Vitter bill is supported by environmental and consumer advocacy group, as mentioned in the press statement, and does not shy away from confronting potential human health and environmental impacts of offshore aquaculture. The bill asks regulators to devise guidelines to prevent:

  • “pollution from concentrated fish feces and uneaten food;
  • parasites, diseases, and their effects on native wildlife species;
  • escape of marine species from offshore aquaculture facilities;
  • degradation of wild stocks of marine species;
  • negative impacts on commercial and recreational fishing;
  • inefficient reliance on wild forage fish to feed marine species in offshore aquaculture facilities;
  • inappropriate use of chemicals to treat parasites and disease in off- shore aquaculture;
  • negative health impacts from consumption of marine species produced in offshore aquaculture.”

The economic potential of land-based recirculating aquaculture also will be studied if the bill is made law. Recirculating aquaculture is a more biosecure form of fish farming where the water and fish waste are treated, then recycled back into the fish tanks. Recent 2010 funding initiatives by NOAA Aquaculture Program targeted just marine aquaculture, and therefore Vitter’s bill may help support aquaculture for land-locked states and states that do not have access fishable waters, it could also be an important step in promoting a more sustainable form of fish production.

– Dave Love

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