President Barack Obama has given the green light to commercial deepwater fish farms, and the federal agency charged with regulating ocean waters is already developing a comprehensive policy. Obama's decision was announced two weeks ago after months of emotionally charged public hearings in coastal communities. The decision drew immediate scorn from members of Louisiana's congressional delegation and statewide elected officials. Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-Napoleonville, who represents the lion's share of Louisiana's coast, says fish farming in the federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico would increase pollution in the ocean and spread disease to wild fish populations. "Raising thousands of fish in confined spaces will create dangerous new pollution hazards in the Gulf, hurting our commercial and recreational fishermen," Melancon says, adding that the Obama administration should reverse its "misguided policy," especially during a time when "our Louisiana shrimpers and fishermen are facing new threats from foreign competitors."
Last year the Legislature adopted a resolution urging Congress to oppose any "regulatory system for offshore aquaculture." The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission also endorsed the resolution. "Past experiences with aquaculture operations of this nature have resulted in increased pollution of the surrounding waters due to concentrated amounts of fish food, fish waste, and chemicals and antibiotics used to treat the caged fish, and have resulted in damaged cages floating free, interfering with maritime commerce and endangering others attempting to use the surrounding waters," the resolution states.
Not everyone in the Bayou State is opposed to the plan, however. Soybean farmers, for instance, potentially stand to benefit. That's because aquaculture-related activities could increase demand for soybean meal used by fish farms, according to the American Soybean Association (ASA). "Soybeans play a key role in building a U.S. aquaculture industry to meet growing consumer demand for safe, healthy seafood," ASA President Johnny Dodson said in a prepared statement.
Jane Lubchenco, an administrator with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, says a robust sustainable aquaculture industry will also "increase the locally grown seafood supply and provide new economic opportunities for U.S. coastal communities." Currently 84 percent of the U.S. seafood supply is imported, and about half of those imports are from aquaculture. The NOAA will not stand in Obama's way in creating this new industry; in fact, it has already charged its Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council to come up with proposed regulations. Final action on that end could take months, with results possibly not seen for years. — Jeremy Alford