Bush Administration Proposal Allows Industrial Fish Farming Off Coasts

Proposal Circumvents Congress to Allow Fish Farms On Oil And Gas Rigs

Washington, DC – The Bush administration took an end-run around Congress today with a proposal that, for the first time ever, would set up a federal program to allow industrial fish farming in federal waters. The proposal, announced by the U.S. Minerals Management Service (MMS), would allow fish farms to operate in federal water using energy companies’ oil and gas rigs.

“The Bush administration’s proposal provides back-door access to our oceans for industrial-sized fish farms,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “What’s more, it allows energy companies to sell their oil and gas rigs rather than restoring the marine environment.”

Offshore aquaculture often involves raising hundreds of thousands of carnivorous finfish, such as cod and cobia, in large, crowded cages where fish waste and chemicals flush straight into the open ocean. These farms can introduce escaped non-native fish species that compete with and spread disease to wild-fish populations. Furthermore, carnivorous fish require a diet including large quantities of fishmeal and fish oil, thus putting pressure on the fish populations harvested for this feed. It can take two to six pounds of wild fish to produce one pound of some farmed fish.

By going through a federal agency rulemaking instead of going through Congress, the administration is able to permit fish farming in federal waters without waiting until Congress passes the administration’s controversial fish-farming bill unveiled earlier this spring. Conservation, environmental, and fishing organizations have strongly criticized the bill, and it has not passed committee. Last year, the administration’s bill did not pass out of committee in the Senate and did not attract any support in the House.

Energy platforms may have severe negative impacts on local fisheries. Reports have established a connection between oil and gas rigs and elevated mercury levels and the dangerous ciguatera toxin in surrounding wild fish. Moreover, energy platforms can cause environmental damage, and pose navigational hazards when they are affected by storms, such as the recent Hurricanes Rita and Katrina, which severely damaged several offshore oil platforms and resulted in several rigs reported as missing.

“Considering the problems with open ocean fish farms and the high levels of contaminants found near offshore oil and gas rigs, converting oil rigs to fish farms would be dangerous for our oceans and consumers,” Hauter said.

The legality of MMS’s brand new “rigs to fish farms” program unveiled today is questionable. MMS argues it was given separate authority for the program from Congress in language buried in a massive energy law passed in 2005 that allowed MMS to permit use of platforms for “marine-related” uses. But that law also states that such uses must be “authorized” and currently Congress has not specifically authorized federal agencies to allow fish farms in federal waters.

Food & Water Watch is a new nonprofit consumer rights group based in Washington, D.C., dedicated to protecting our food and water. Visit www.foodandwaterwatch.org.

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