Alaska Congressman Don Young has introduced legislation that would prohibit the Secretary of Interior and the Secretary of Commerce from authorizing commercial finfish aquaculture operations in the federal Exclusive Economic Zone, from 3 to 200 miles from shore, unless specifically authorized by Congress.
"If not properly managed, farmed fish can be a significant threat to the health of Alaska's wild stocks and the health of our oceans," Young said. "Alaska's seafood industry is one of the largest employers in the state, and today's legislation will preserve Congress' prerogative to determine what type of aquaculture programs should and should not be conducted in our waters and those adjacent to our waters."
Congress has never authorized open ocean aquaculture or provided a legislative framework for managing finfish farms in the EEZ, in spite of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration drawing up a 10-year plan in 2007 that had stated goals such as "By the end of 2007, develop policies, guidelines and protocols for use in the review of proposed marine aquaculture facilities by NOAA regional and program offices under current NOAA mandates."
The most recent activity on the NOAA aquaculture website involves funding opportunities for creating biofuels from algea:
"As part of the Energy Department's efforts to develop transportation fuels that don't rely on petroleum, they announced on January 16 up to $10 million available this year to help unlock the potential of biofuels made from algae. The funding will support projects aimed at boosting the productivity of algae and increasing the efficiency of algae harvesting technologies."
NOAA drew fire from commercial fishermen when it began aggressively promoting aquaculture in federal waters, saying that spending taxpayer dollars to create a system that would lower prices for wild-caught products was inherently unfair.
However, the spotty nature of the project appears to have diminished the immediate threat. Three separate bills submitted to Congress in 2004, 2007 and 2009 failed to produce the regulatory framework, failing to even move out of committee.
NOAA says that it has a commitment to developing sustainable aquaculture, although its definition of "sustainable" is not found in any of its literature.
Cristy Fry has commercial fished in Homer since 1978. She can be reached at email@example.com.