The US imports about 91% of its seafood, half of which is farmed in aquaculture facilities. Should the US do more to kickstart its own industry?
Off the coast of San Diego, Americas eighth largest city, commercial fishermen harvest about 1,100 metric tons of seafood from the Pacific every year.
That sounds like a lot. But it isnt much to Don Kent, who says he can do better with just one fish farm.
If Kent gets his way, he would raise 5,000 metric tons of yellowtail jack and white sea bass in a grid of net pens measuring about a square mile, anchored four miles off San Diego in federal waters. The species are prized in Southern California sushi restaurants, which now serve their customers imported fish almost exclusively, most of it from China, Japan, Greece or Chile.
The US imports about 91% of its seafood. Whether consumers know it or not, about half of that is farmed in aquaculture facilities much like the one Kent wants to build. While the federal government has permitted shellfish farming for years, it didnt allow farming of finfish such as bass and salmon until earlier this year.
Why are we buying all of our yellowtail from farms in Japan when I could grow them four miles off our coast and lower the carbon footprint and the trade deficit at the same time? says Kent, president and CEO of Rose Canyon Fisheries, which aims to build the project. This is done around the world. Its just not done here.
But Kent isnt likely to get approval soon, because the location is all wrong. The government is eager to promote offshore fish farming to alleviate pressure on overfished wild species. But it wants that to happen first in the Gulf of Mexico. The National Marine Fisheries Service adopted its first rules for finfish farming in federal waters for the gulf region in January this year. Next up is the Pacific Islands region around Guam, Hawaii and Samoa, where in August the agency began preparing a report to analyze the environmental impact of aquaculture.
The mismatch between the proposals location and the new rules reflects the governments difficulties in incubating a new industry. Kents proposal, first submitted in October 2014, is the only fish farm proposal that the federal government has received so far. A lawsuit filed in February contends the new rules for the Gulf of Mexico could significantly harm the environment and commercial fishing, and it may be keeping away potential applicants who want to wait for the cases resolution before filing plans.
We shouldnt be doing this on an industrial scale until we have better information, says Marianne Cufone, a professor of environmental law at Loyola Law School in New Orleans. Its very possible the Gulf of Mexico will be altered forever if we move forward.
Raising fish in coastal farms isnt a new phenomenon. It just hasnt happened yet in federal waters, which range from 3-200 miles offshore. Several states allow aquaculture in coastal waters under their control, which extend out three miles from shore, including Maine, Washington and Hawaii.
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