By Sena Wheeler and Sam Cowles / For The Herald
Washington is no stranger to fish farms.
We’ve seen corporations hide the destructive impacts from the escape of fish from net pens in our waters, and the effects on our coastal communities. And it was a relief when our state waters became protected from industrial aquaculture this November. However, the federal waters that lie just 3 miles offshore are still vulnerable to corporate control, devastating pollution and negative impacts to Washington’s commercial fishing industry.
The Trump administration’s Executive Order No. 13921 provided the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration the authority to create Aquaculture Opportunity Areas (AOAs) in federal waters throughout the United States. Simply put, the order gave NOAA the ability to carve up our ocean into prime sites for industrial-scale fish farms. While the current sites are in the Gulf of Mexico and Southern California, the executive order dictates that every four years new aquaculture areas must be identified, leaving Washington’s federal waters at risk.
Last year, more than 175 fishing associations, food groups, environmental organizations and coastal businesses delivered an open letter to the White House, urging President Biden to revoke the Trump-era executive order. The letter represented nearly 9 million people, including many fishers from Washington state. They must have their voices heard and businesses protected by revoking this executive order.
The best way to protect wild fish is to buy wild fish. The idea that we are running out of fish and must use industrial farming practices to bolster our seafood supply is simply wrong. If our fish come primarily from industrial farms run by distant corporations, we are harming our wild fish populations through water pollution, fish escapement and depleting forage fish for feed. When we are not buying and eating wild fish and placing a high value on their importance to feed our people, we also lose generational independent fishing families and local coastal communities and cultures that both depend on fishing and place a deep value on sustainable fishing practices and wild salmon habitat restoration.
Our wild fishing industry depends on the cleanliness of our waters and the health of our fish. Losing the value of wild fish from clean waters leaves corporations free to pollute the water and destroy the ecosystem of the rivers through deforestation, mining, and other harmful industrial practices. If wild fish no longer hold value that is when corporations will control our food system.
Large-scale finfish farms are the ocean equivalent to confined animal feeding operations where the majority of meat in the United States is produced. Growing livestock in cramped pens without proper space or light leads to impacts on consumer health and the surrounding environment, not to mention animal welfare concerns. Just as disease can run rampant in small pens, offshore aquaculture cages allow disease and pests, such as sea lice to spread rapidly. The excess feed, untreated fish waste, antibiotics and other chemicals flow into the surrounding ocean where they wreak havoc on our marine ecosystem and contribute to toxic algal blooms.
We do not need this in any body of water in the United States. By revoking Executive Order 13921, Biden can protect our oceans and make important steps toward supporting the prosperity of Washington’s fishing community. Our oceans do not need to be sliced up for corporate gain, when we can support small scale fishers and add to the importance of our wild populations.
Sena Wheeler holds a masters degree in nutrition and food science in addition to being a mom, foodie, and fifth-generation fisherman’s wife. Visit her at SenaSea.com where she blogs about family, fish and food.Sam Cowles is an organizer with Don’t Cage Our Oceans and lives in Seattle.