Boost Aquaculture, But at What Cost?

Fish farmThe National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) oversees aquaculture, or fish farming, in the U.S., both in freshwater and marine environments. Since the U.S. imports 84 percent of its seafood, about half of which is farmed, there is need for growth in the domestic fish-farming industry. Thus the NOAA has proposed a set of policies to guide American aquaculture. But a group of about 30 organizations, including the Center for Media and Democracy, has sent comments to the NOAA (pdf) expressing dismay that the proposed aquaculture policies fall short, in part by failing to maintain a neutral view of aquaculture. The draft policies seem more aimed at boosting the aquaculture industry at any cost than rationally and scientifically evaluating the pros and cons of this type of development in any given circumstance, place and time.

In keeping with this pro-business tone, NOAA's draft policy fails to acknowledge that the marine environment is a public commons that should be managed and regulated for the overall public good. The policies don't mention that aquaculture should not restrict public access to the oceans, or a require that aquaculture businesses submit an Environmental Impact Statement prior to obtaining an aquaculture permit. The policy fails to define or describe what constitutes "sustainable" aquaculture -- a term now so overused that it has lost clear meaning in many contexts. In fact, the draft policies assume all aquaculture will be of benefit regardless of the circumstances, and doesn't acknowledge any responsibility to assure that aquaculture products -- including genetically-engineered seafood -- don't pose a threat to human health.

You can read NOAA's Draft Aquaculture Policy here (pdf), and the comments and recommendations of the thirty organizations here.