February 26, 2016
Aquaculture and Fisheries Policy
This month NOAA released a draft proposal for new seafood traceability requirements for 13 species to stem imports of illegal, unreported, and unregulated fish. While the plan is a good first step, our colleague Beth Lowell of Oceana would like to see the plan go further by adding three components in the final rule: “1) it needs to apply to all seafood; 2) products need to be traced throughout the entire supply chain to final point of sale; and 3) if there is a phase-in implementation process, there must be a concrete timeline to expand the rule to all species and extend traceability from boat to plate in the final rule.” Read more: The Hill and Food Safety News.
The Obama administration has taken two important steps toward reforming the fishing industry and addressing the use of forced labor in fishing. One bill about to be signed into law allows the U.S. to ban imports of fish caught using forced labor in SE Asia. The U.S. government recently ratified an international pact to block foreign vessels suspected of illegal fishing from docking at U.S. ports. Read more at the New York Times.
We reported last month that fish farming is coming to the Gulf of Mexico as NOAA finalizes its offshore aquaculture policy. Questions still remain about how much these farms will interfere with commercial fishing and the local ecosystem. Marianne Cufone, adjunct professor at Loyola University, says in an NPR interview, “There have been millions of fish that have escaped all over the world and are causing problems — not just genetic problems, but things like spreading diseases between captive fish and wild fish.” We anticipate more discussion of these issues as companies begin submitting permits for offshore farms. Read more at NPR.
Cautious optimism in the Chesapeake Bay, where the blue crab population and acreage of submerged underwater grasses are both increasing. The gains are thought to be due to a multi-year, collaborative environmental cleanup effort in the Bay that has targeted pollution sources like nitrogen runoff from agriculture. The cleanup is led by the Environmental Protection Agency, and involves many stakeholders throughout the watershed and government agencies at every level. A cleaner Chesapeake Bay is a great thing for shellfish aquaculture in Maryland and Virginia! Read more at the Baltimore Sun.
Diet and Nutrition
Brain health in elderly may get a boost from eating seafood. Over 500 (deceased) elderly Chicagoans donated their brains to science. Those who ate fish in the five years preceding their death had less brain damage from Alzheimer disease. Participants who ate more fish also had higher levels of mercury in their brains, but mercury levels were not correlated with brain damage. Read more at JAMA.
Levels of toxins in fish are dropping around the world over time, researchers at Scripps Institute of Oceanography found in one of the largest meta-analyses conducted. These toxins include PCBs, mercury, and the pesticide DDT. But many fish are still too polluted to consume. The effects were seen throughout the food web, and predictably, in greater amounts in large predatory fish compared to smaller fish. Read more at the San Diego Union-Tribune.
As we have reported in the past, the Thai shrimp industry, the largest shrimp importer to the US, has a checkered past regarding human trafficking and labor. A new issue emerged this year at shrimp processing plants when it was found that companies were laying off workers and not providing compensation. The article quotes activist Andy Hall who says “These workers are in debt bondage, and if the shrimp shed closes, and they’re indebted to brokers and employers, then they can be sold on.” Labor abuses also exist at Thai shrimp farms and hatcheries where activists report it is common for employers to confiscate workers’ passports, require long work shifts, and ban workers from leaving the farm to prevent theft. Read more at Thomson Reuters Foundation News.
More environmentally sustainable marine shrimp farming methods are being piloted in Thailand. Decades of intensive shrimp farming have destroyed coastal mangroves, leaving communities vulnerable to storm surges, erosion and less productive fishing grounds. Globally, one fifth of the world’s mangroves have been lost due mainly to intensive shrimp farming. Read more at Thomson Reuters Foundation News. A tip of our hat to journalist Alisa Tang for covering these issues in Thailand.
Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski (R) has stated publically she will block the confirmation proceedings for FDA commissioner Robert Califf’s nomination over concerns that genetically engineered (GE) Atlantic salmon labeling has not been adequately addressed by the FDA. Read more at the Seward City News.
Cooke Aquaculture, the largest salmon producer in Maine, released a statement reminding the public that they do not and will not raise GE salmon. Their stance is consistent with the International Salmon Farmers Association, which in 2002 said “In accordance with sound environmental practice, the ISFA firmly rejects transgenic salmon production.” Read more at Cooke Aquaculture.
Although GE Atlantic salmon is still a year or two from the marketplace, the FDA decided to preemptively block any imports of these products until the agency develops a labeling rule. Read the FDA import alert.
Recent Funding Announcements and Awards
The Department of Energy announced $15 million in funding for algae researchers who can produce 3,700 gallons of algal biofuel intermediate per acre per year by 2020. Read more at the DOE.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced $3 million in funding for aquaculture research through the National Sea Grant College Program. Read more at Grants.gov.
An integrated seaweed – shellfish start-up called “Green Wave” was awarded the 2015 Fuller Challenge, a sustainability prize of $100,000 from the Buckminster Fuller Institute. The aquaculture company is based in Connecticut and plans to deploy seaweed-shellfish farms from southern New England to New York. Read more at The Guardian.