This editorial appeared in The Miami Herald.
The nation's fisheries are overseen by regional management councils. Their record of creating sustainable fisheries for commercial and recreational purposes has improved over time as science has come to play a larger role in managing them. Still, the oceans are suffering. Temperatures are gradually rising while the oxygen content of oceans is dropping. Many fish species are so depleted that they are off-limits for harvest for long periods.
As wild fish dwindle, entrepreneurs are expanding the aquaculture industry. But fish farms present their own risks, which explains the opposition to an aquaculture management plan being voted on today by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council.
A coalition of environmental, commercial and recreational fishing groups – not always on the same side on marine issues – wants the council to hold off on approving the aquaculture plan. They make a compelling argument that council members should heed. Approving an aquaculture plan for the Gulf of Mexico now would be premature.
The advantage of aquaculture is that it provides the market with an option to ocean-caught wild-fish stocks that are being depleted. But the scope and type of fish farming proposed for the Gulf could do just the opposite. The fish that will be raised are predators. They eat forage fish, which would be caught in the ocean, meaning no protection for wild-fish groups. In fact, the concern is that farming predatory fish in any large quantities would rapidly deplete forage-fish populations. And the management plan proposes a big enough aquaculture scope to be a real threat.
The council would oversee the aquaculture under the Magnuson Stevens Act, which gives the councils their mandate to manage sustainable fisheries. Opponents of the fish-farming plan argue that when Congress passed the act, it never envisioned aquaculture as part of a management plan with rights equal to fishing vessels'.
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