New Bill to Promote Ocean Feedlots for Fish Legislation lacks safeguards and won't add to fish supply

June 7, 2005

Contact:  Kathleen Goldstein, 202-572-3243

(June 7, 2005, Washington, DC)  Environmental Defense opposes a new bill announced today by National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration (NOAA) that would accelerate the development of open ocean aquaculture in federal waters from three to 200 miles offshore.  The bill promotes large, industrial-style fish farms without adequate environmental protections.

“Near-shore aquaculture, especially salmon farming, has been highly controversial in coastal states,” said Environmental Defense scientist Dr. Rebecca Goldburg.   “Now the federal government is moving to develop aquaculture outside state waters in the Exclusive Economic Zone.”

Like farmed salmon, finfish raised offshore will be housed in netcages.  These structures, which sit directly in marine waters, allow fish wastes to flow directly into surrounding waters.  Netcages can permit escapes of farmed fish, and spread fish parasites and disease. 

NOAA’s legislation would establish a leasing and permitting system for open ocean fish farms, and authorize funds to promote industry development.

“Unfortunately, NOAA’s bill does not require that new offshore farms - really fish feedlots — meet a legal standard for environmental protection before they are permitted,” said Goldburg.  “Without adequate precautions, ocean feedlots may cause problems similar to those caused by large hog and chicken production facilities on land.”

At the scale envisioned by NOAA - a $5 billion per year industry - fish feedlots would release roughly as much nitrogen per year as the entire North Carolina hog farming industry (10 million hogs) or a city of 17 million people.  Excess nitrogen pollutes marine waters by spurring the growth of algae, leading in extreme cases to reduced oxygen levels and ocean dead zones.

NOAA says it wants to encourage offshore aquaculture to increase U.S. seafood production, but the fish targeted for offshore farms, such as cod, halibut and tuna are carnivores and raising them requires more fish to be caught for feed than are ultimately harvested.
“Aquaculture needs to grow,” continued Goldburg.  “Many fisheries are overtaxed, and fish farming, done right, can add to the world’s fish supply without harming the environment.  But, NOAA is advancing fish farming that lacks safeguards necessary to protect ocean ecosystems from harm.”