WASHINGTON – The Bush administration wants to allow ocean farming for shellfish, salmon and saltwater species in federal waters for the first time, hoping to grab a greater share of the $70 billion aquaculture market.
A plan being announced today by Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez would let companies operate fish farms three miles to 200 miles offshore, but without some of the rules on size, season and harvest methods that apply to other commercial fishermen.
Fish farms already operate on inland and coastal waters as far as three miles into the ocean, which fall under state jurisdiction.
Environmental concerns have arisen about wastewater generated by such operations. Gutierrez, however, said the administration’s proposal had safeguards and would permit states to ban fish farming up to 12 miles off their coast.
‘We believe we can do it in a way that is environmentally sound, that makes sense for our economy. And given that we are importing so much farm-raised fish, we might as well do it ourselves,” Gutierrez said.
The plan, to be presented at the International Boston Seafood Show, would help the $1 billion U.S. aquaculture industry roughly double over the next few decades, he said.
About 70 percent of all the seafood eaten in the United States comes from overseas, contributing “a trade deficit of about $9 billion in fish,” Gutierrez said. Almost half is farm-raised.
Farming of saltwater species such as salmon and shrimp is common in countries such as Thailand, Canada, China and Scotland.
Until now, the U.S. industry has focused mainly on catfish, tilapia and other freshwater fish. Some ocean farms raise shellfish such as mussels, clams and oysters, as well as shrimp and salmon.
Some marine experts, however, say fish farming adds to overfishing because most farms involve carnivorous fish that are fed more fish protein than the farms produce. They say the farms release pesticides, antibiotics and other chemicals, and cause genetic contamination of wild fish.
“The growth of aquaculture is questionable, as we are using the wild fish to grind up to feed the farmed fish,” said Charles Clover, author of “The End Of The Line,” a book on overfishing.