Farming The USA’s Oceans Under Virus Cover

Struggling commercial fishers and environmentalists say the White House is exploiting COVID-19 to privatise the ocean writes Alexander C Kaufman in the Huff Post (USA).
These are some extracts. The full article is at

Since lockdown measures in the USA, seafood sales to restaurants have dropped dramatically, threatening thousands of fishing businesses with bankruptcy. US president Donald Trump has ordered the Commerce Department to roll back regulations on commercial fishing along with a process to open federal waters, the stretch of ocean between three to 200 miles off most US coastlines, to private companies farming fish in giant pens.
Advocates for the U.S. aquaculture industry have long argued that the world’s growing appetite for seafood demands the expansion of fish farming, from oyster and inland salmon ponds to open-water pens teeming with fin-fish. At a moment when human-induced global warming is rapidly changing life in oceans, those in this nascent sector compare offshore aquaculture to seaward wind turbines ― a tool with more benefits than tradeoffs when it comes to sustainability.
But the concern isn’t just that raising tuna or tilapia in federal waters will eat into the market share of those who currently make a living off the seas. Environmentalists say farmed fish produce concentrated pollution and risk devastating wild populations should they accidentally get turned loose in open waters. 
“This is the nightmare scenario: Having all these factory fish farms offshore that are going to be breeding disease and causing pollution,” said Rosanna Marie Neil, the policy counsel at the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance, a group that advocates for fishermen. “That’s the last thing we need right now when we’re going through a pandemic.”
What Trump’s executive order this month did is establish the federal chain of command to speed through aquaculture projects once the legal approval is in place.
Salmon Farms Banned
Washington state banned inland salmon farms in 2018 after the non-native domestic fish escaped cages and invaded local rivers. The effects of unleashing the fish into ecosystems already in flux is one problem from climate change is still unclear. Pollution from net pens is another concern.
“There’s the waste issue,” said Miriam Goldstein, the director of ocean policy at the liberal Centre for American Progress. “Simply put – these fish are pooping.”
Yet pesticides and chemicals to treat farmed fish for diseases that may develop in close quarters could also cause damage, as can excess food that falls out of the cages. 2014 federal review found “offshore fin-fish aquaculture operations generally do not have the ability to prevent chemicals and veterinary drugs (if used) and uneaten feed and fish waste from leaving the farm environment and flowing into adjacent waters.” 
Disease Plague
The environmental group Friends of the Earth concluded that “diseases, parasites, and other issues plague the stocks of industrial ocean fish farms, often causing significant death tolls.”
The fishmeal itself raises more concerns. Fish farms in the Gulf would likely feed on anchovies or menhaden, a small, oily and abundant fish that serves as a cornerstone of the wild food chain, disrupting the wild ecosystem. Pressure on the menhaden population in the years after the BP oil spill, for example, threw other species into turmoil, studies published in 2017 found. 
The aquaculture industry’s demand for such fishmeal ripples oceans away.  Chinese fishmeal companies monopolized the market for fish that locals in The Gambia, once considered a staple protein. 
“Now the people there have no access to those fish because fishmeal firms can pay more,” Goldstein said. “If U.S. fish farms were to enter the fray, there’s no guarantee fishmeal would be sustainably or ethically sourced.”
A False Premise
The Trump administration frequently cites the statistic that 90% of seafood Americans eat is imported ― the so-called “seafood deficit,” which in turn is part of the argument propelling fish farming projects. But the 90% figure is misleading. A large percentage of the seafood consumed in the U.S. is caught here, shipped overseas for processing, then re-imported. 

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