NOAA plan to boost aquaculture production criticized

Commercial fishermen’s association says plan is the problem, not the solution

NOAA Fisheries’ strategic plan to develop sustainable marine aquaculture is drawing criticism from commercial fishermen and environmentalists who argue it’s the problem rather than the solution to feeding more people.

Friends of the Earth delivered over 38,500 comments to NOAA in San Diego on Nov. 9, during the federal agency’s final listening session on its Marine Aquaculture Strategic plan.

The goal of NOAA’s aquaculture plan is to expand sustainable U.S. marine aquaculture production by at least 50 percent by the year 2020.

“NOAA should steward our oceans, not push an industry that will pollute our waters,” said Hallie Templeton, senior oceans campaigner for Friends of the Earth. Templeton argued that NOAA is using these listening sessions “to sell an industrial ocean fish farming plan and then ignore public input. Friends of the Earth contends that while NOAA promoted the listening sessions as an opportunity for public input that many of these sessions have included more time for agency and panel discussion with limited time allotted for public comment, ending sessions with individuals still lined up at the microphone waiting to speak.

“Marine finfish aquaculture isn’t the solution, it’s the problem,” said Noah Oppenheim, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. “When feedlot-style fish farms are installed, wild fish populations collapse soon after. It’s a shame that an environmental regulatory agency like NOAA is cheerleading a destructive corporate enterprise like industrial fish farming.”

“Fishing communities around the nation are united in opposition,” he said. “Will we ignore mistakes made elsewhere, or will we protect our world-class sustainable fisheries?”

In Alaska on Aug. 27 Gov. Bill Walker signed administrative order 297, extending the Mariculture Task Force until 2021, and House Bill 76, allowing shellfish and seaweed hatcheries to be eligible applicants for the Mariculture Revolving Loan Fund, sponsored by Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan, and Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak. The state also unveiled the Alaska Mariculture Development Plan, created by a stakeholder group with a goal to grow a $100 million industry in 20 years.

The United States currently imports more than 90 percent of its seafood, about half of which is farmed. NOAA officials maintain in their plan that marine aquaculture is vital for supporting the nation’s seafood product, year-round jobs, rebuilding protected species and habitats and enhancing coastal resilience. Globally aquaculture supplies over 50 percent of all seafood produced for human consumption, and that percentage will continue to rise, NOAA contends in its online promotion of the program.

More information on NOAA’s Office of Aquaculture priorities is online at https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/office-aquaculture-priorities.