Federal Government Encourages Shellfish, Finfish Production

Photo courtesy of NOAA: Finfish are raised in aquaculture facilities for food, and for restocking wild populations in some cases. Pictured here are juvenile halibut from a hatchery.

The Obama Administration announced its Marine Aquaculture policy today, making it official that the federal government will encourage the production of shellfish and finfish in U.S. waters.  Any proposal to do so would have to work its way through the regional management councils, and at present only one council is looking at fish farming – that’s in the Gulf of Mexico.

Eric Schwaab, the Assistant Administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, says seafood consumption is growing in the U.S., but that growth is mostly being fed by imported fish, about half of it farmed.  The policy clearly states that fish farming must be compatible with healthy eco-systems and it should complement, not compete with, wild caught fish.

The biggest potential growth area for aquaculture is shellfish. Doctor Michael Rubino, the Manager of NOAA’s Fisheries Service, says shellfish already dominate the nation’s fish farming production, and in the near term, he doesn’t see that changing.

Shellfish farming has been on the rise in Alaska for more than a decade and is widely supported, but fin-fish farming is adamantly opposed here.  Fishermen see potential threats to wild stocks from fish farming.  Their concerns include habitat displacement, genetic contamination, parasites and disease.  NOAA’s Schwab says the new policies that were finalized today include safeguards:

The policies do not supercede any state regulations.  The policy calls for co-operation with the states. It also calls for the feds to provide technical assistance in looking for better ways to feed farmed fish.

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