U.S. Federal officials last week signaled a renewed push toward offshore aquaculture, though it likely remains years before officials grant the first permit to grow fish in cages in the Gulf of Mexico. What could happen more quickly, according to an official with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is commercial farming of shellfish.
But environmentalists and some commercial fishing interests have promised to fight against fish farming in the nation’s oceans in every way possible. The practice is blamed for undermining the genetic purity of wild salmon strains; driving down the price of wild-caught fish; polluting coastal waters with excess nutrients, antibiotics and pesticides; and spreading disease and plagues of sea lice to some wild fish populations.
Promised lawsuits will question whether NOAA has the basic authority under federal law to regulate fish farming. Those lawsuits won’t come until sometime after NOAA issues formal regulations for the industry, which is expected in about a year. And no permits for offshore fish farms can be filed until regulations are in place, federal officials said.
“The announcement that NOAA was moving forward with the Gulf of Mexico plan was a true sign that this national policy is merely a smokescreen for factory fish farming off U.S. shores,” said Zach Corrigan, an attorney with Food and Water Watch, a group that has emerged as one of the primary opponents of offshore aquaculture.