It’s like large-scale feedlots, but in our ocean
Offshore aquaculture is the mass farming of fish in the ocean–it’s not fishing. Think of industrial feedlots for cattle or chickens and the environmental, animal welfare and human health issues associated with these large-scale meat production facilities. That’s aquaculture, but with fish. Currently, offshore aquaculture of fish (distinct from shellfish aquaculture) doesn’t exist in the United States’ federal waters that start at three miles offshore and extend 200 miles from our coastline.
What we want for our oceans and the people who depend on them
We want sustainable, wild fish populations that produce healthy food and support fishing businesses in balance with good water quality and a healthy ecosystem. We want fishable water. We want to protect our sea’s health by not over using it–we can improve habitat and fish populations by supporting a healthy, natural ecosystem that rebuilds essential fish populations.
Among environmental considerations that we need to consider, these stand out:
- Feeding operations
Producing a single kilogram of high-value carnivorous marine fish such as yellow tail, cod, sea bass, or tuna typically uses two to five kilograms of wild-caught fish processed into fish meal and fish oil for feed.3 Using wild-caught fish to feed farmed fish is incredibly inefficient from an ecological perspective and can encourage more unsustainable wild fish harvesting. Supplementing fish feed with land-based sources, like corn, soybeans, or grains, raises even more environmental concerns.
- Sourcing and selecting farmed species
Non-native fish species pose an unacceptable risk to native ocean ecosystems. In the past, escaped fish from aquaculture operations have introduced new and often effective predators, competitors, and disease into local ecosystems. Transporting juvenile fish used to populate or repopulate the farm raises energy and efficiency questions.
Aquaculture is known to amplify disease and parasites due to crowded conditions, transmitting these back to wild fish. Disease can spread at a rapid pace; as water flows through the cage, parasites are washed out and can infect wild fish. Antibiotics, other drugs, and chemicals to prevent disease are passed into the environment and may be passed to the consumer.
- Predator and wildlife interruptions
Sharks, whales, seals, and other predators attracted by the captive fish may become entangled in the cages or their related gear. This could result in incidental death, damage to net pens, and escaped fish.
- Nutrient pollution
Excessive nutrients (nutrient pollution is one of America’s most widespread, costly and challenging environmental problems, and is caused by excess nitrogen and phosphorus in the water) derived from residual feed, fish waste, and other products used in aquaculture contaminate the surrounding environment. This may lead to algal blooms, unhealthy dissolved oxygen levels, or “dead zones” near the operations.
- Cumulative impacts
Multiple aquaculture operations in a given geographic region may have unintended or unforeseen significant cumulative impacts.
- Siting concerns
Offshore aquaculture facilities could potentially interrupt migration routes if they are not properly sited. In places where oil rigs exist, offshore aquaculture on or near oil rigs poses significant environmental and consumer risks and absolves the oil company of responsibility for future damage or liability caused by the rig.
Who regulates fish aquaculture?
Each of these concerns has yet to be comprehensively addressed by our federal government. Currently, the federal government has no regulations allowing for the use of our public waters for offshore fish aquaculture and no system in place to measure the environmental impact of such projects and mitigate those impacts.
The critical first step toward even considering domestic offshore fish aquaculture is for the United States Congress to establish a national federal framework for the review, permitting, leasing, and regulatory oversight of projects that leads to robust best management practices to address environmental impacts and monitoring requirements. Once that framework is in place, we encourage continued transparency and public debate regarding all proposed offshore aquaculture facilities and their ongoing operations.
Offshore Aquaculture in San Diego – Rose Canyon Fisheries
On February 25, 2015, Rose Canyon Fisheries, Inc. submitted an application to the Army Corps of Engineers (the government body currently in charge of approving navigational obstruction permits) for a permit to establish the structures related to a proposed commercial aquaculture project off the San Diego shoreline that could produce 11 million pounds of fish annually. San Diego Coastkeeper calls for congressional action to establish a clear federal regulatory framework for all aspects of the offshore aquaculture permitting process to precede any individual permit. In addition, we want to see an extensive overhaul to the environmental protections proposed for this project.
Download this PDF to access all scientific citations related to the information above and to read our March 11, 2015 comments on the Army Corps permit application. Please also download this 2010 document that we wrote before the Rose Canyon Fisheries project was proposed.
Does aquaculture currently exist in San Diego?
San Diego County does have aquaculture projects of various sizes and purposes. These fish farms operate under established permits and/or standards created to protect the region’s water quality and often include regular monitoring to ensure the standards are met. And, they are in waters and lands leased from the government with an accompanying property right to locate there. These fish production businesses must adhere to water quality rules and violations can be addressed through traditional legal and public comment means, and ultimately they remain accountable to our Regional Water Board and the general public. These standards and avenues to ensure accountability would not apply to the proposed Rose Canyon Fisheries project, reconfirming our concerns about aquaculture in San Diego’s ocean.