Lawmakers ask Commerce Department to reject Gulf fish farms

Citing environmental concerns and regulatory issues, Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., and 36 other U.S. lawmakers have asked the U.S. Department of Commerce to reject a plan to allow fish farms in the Gulf of Mexico.

The lawmakers sent a letter Friday to Commerce Secretary Gary Locke in opposition to a Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council plan. The council — which includes representatives from Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana, Florida and Alabama — approved the plan in January in Bay St. Louis following months of heated debate and objection from charter boat fishermen and environmental groups, among others.

Former President George W. Bush's administration spawned the offshore aquaculture initiatives several years ago and the Department of Commerce has to approve the council's plan, which establishes a permitting process for such operations. In the letter, the bipartisan group of lawmakers asked the Commerce Department to work with them to create a system that deals with their worries.

"The potential impacts of this industry and the many unknown factors necessitate precaution, not hasty development," the lawmakers wrote. "Therefore, we urge you to disapprove the council's offshore aquaculture plan and work with Congress to develop a comprehensive regulatory program that will address these concerns."

The measure allows fish to be raised in pens as far as 200 miles out in federal waters off the coasts of Mississippi and other states. Companies could get permits to annually raise and kill up to 64 million pounds of grouper, cobia and other fish currently only found in the wild, officials told the Sun Herald in January.


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