Fishermen against open ocean fish farming
Alaska Journal of Commerce 30/11/2004 14:29:21
open ocean fish farming
Laine Welch Like it or not, fish farms are coming soon to the open oceans.
Legislation will be introduced to Congress next year supporting expansion of aquaculture from three to 200 miles offshore. Many federal policy makers believe it is necessary to reduce a large import/export deficit, and to provide more security in U.S. food sources. Already, halibut, cod, sablefish, tuna and many other species are being successfully grown in saltwater farms in the United States and around the globe.
The impact this new industry will have on wild fisheries and world markets has heads in Alaska swimming. To discuss the pros and cons of the Blue Revolution, the state last week convened its first in a series of "town meetings" at the Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle. "We have a national initiative pending, and it is an international reality," said Alaska Department of Fish and Game deputy commissioner Dave Bedford. "In the face of these facts, what is it the state of Alaska ought to do? We're not advancing the issue. We are asking for comments and help as we move ahead."
Not surprisingly, the event drew a passionate outpouring of testimony against offshore fish farms. Here is a sample of what was said at the meeting:·
"NOAA Fisheries is overlooking the fact that this is not just economics," said Paula Terrell, troller and Alaska Marine Conservation Council spokesperson from Juneau. "Large industrialized farms will impact the cultural fabric of coastal communities.""It takes four pounds of (wild fish) feed to create one pound of farmed product. Where are they going to get that nutrient?" asked a Washington fisherman. "We haven't agreed as a society that this is what we want," said Ann Mosness of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. "The federal waters belong to all of us. We did not agree that we want to have thousands of small fishing businesses replaced by corporate food production, much of it foreign-owned." ·
"My main concern is the math. It's easy to see salmon farming has been a net loss for Alaska," said John Van Amerongen, editor of Alaska Fishermen's Journal. "When the cost goes down by 50 percent, we have a vacuum effect. What is the balance in terms of the loss of value, and the benefit to the nation?"·
"We are on a rebound," said a Washington fish marketer. "Consumers are asking for wild salmon and valuing it differently. The future looks good, but only if Alaska maintains the identify of having pure, wild fish."·
"If we are taking about transferring any possibility of us making money into consolidation or major companies, I don't see how that's going to help Alaska coastal communities," said a Petersburg fisherman. "I can hardly understand why we are even having this conversation."·
"Farmed fish and wild fish are not sustainable together. Look anywhere in the world and one of them has crashed," said B.C. fisherman Eric Wickham of the Canadian Sablefish Association. "You have one of the most valuable fisheries in the world. To risk it is insane."
Farms you never fathomed
Offshore fish farms will look much different than you might ever imagine. For example, the Ocean Drifter being designed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a motorized cage the size of a circus tent, operated remotely by computer. The Drifter will hitch months-long rides on ocean currents, ping ponging between continents.
"The ocean is full of predictable currents, or gyres," said Cliff Goudey, director of MIT's Fisheries Engineering Research. "If you could get the cage into one of these gyres, it would essentially stay in the same place, or at least have a predictable trajectory. Even if you had just a slight ability to adjust its movement, you'd be able to control its path pretty exactly."
Goudy said it would be possible to fill a fleet of Ocean Drifters with fingerlings in Florida, and let them follow the Gulf Stream for nine months until they reached Europe with a market-sized crop. "Then you'd load them up again, and send them back along the southern route with another crop," he said in a phone interview.
Goudy added that the cage is not really a drifter, as it has a modest means of self propulsion. "A combination of engine driven hydraulics or electric propulsors that maneuver at a speed of one-tenth of a knot," he said. A mobile cage can move away from predicted bad weather forces. Another advantage is that the cages are not anchored over a fixed spot, which reduces benthic impacts, Goudy said.
Goudy said he believes Alaska's fears of offshore fish farms are not well founded. "I don't think anything can compete with a properly managed ocean fishery in terms of quality and economic efficiency. But we have an appetite for fish that even our well-managed fisheries can't meet," he said.
He offered this advice: "There is a vast area of ocean and it seems logical for us to at least explore how we might use it in a beneficial way. It needs to be looked at - otherwise Alaska will be engaged in playing catch up. This is going to happen."