Independent Panel Recommends Strong, Clear Guidelines for Development of Marine Aquaculture in the United States

Independent Panel Recommends Strong, Clear Guidelines for Development of Marine Aquaculture in the United States

January 8, 2007

Congress should enact legislation to ensure that strong
environmental standards are in place to regulate the siting and conduct of
offshore marine aquaculture, according to an independent panel of leaders from
scientific, policymaking, business, and conservation institutions. At the same
time, the Marine Aquaculture Task Force suggests that the federal government
should provide funding and incentives for research, development, and deployment
of technologies, and techniques for sustainable marine aquaculture.

Aquaculture is the farming of fish, shellfish, and aquatic
plants, and it accounts for nearly one half of all seafood consumed in the world
today. The industry is growing rapidly as wild fish stocks decline.

The Task Force—organized by researchers from the Woods Hole
Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), with support from The Pew Charitable Trusts
and The Lenfest Foundation—was charged with examining the risks and benefits of
marine aquaculture and developing a set of national policy recommendations to
guide future development of our oceans.

“There is a growing need for seafood to feed a hungry world,
but the world’s fisheries can no longer meet the demand,” said task force
chairman Rear Adm. (ret.) Richard F.
Pittenger, former WHOI vice president for Marine Facilities and
Operations and a former Oceanographer of the Navy. “Half of our seafood comes
from aquaculture, and that share is only going to grow. The federal government has proposed a
fivefold increase in U.S.
aquaculture production, and while we certainly agree with an increase, we
believe it must be done in an environmentally responsible way.”

Noting that marine aquaculture would benefit from clear
federal leadership, the task force recommended that Congress should assign a
leading role to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for
planning and regulating the industry. On one hand, the permitting and
application processes should be streamlined and simplified, and there should be
market-based incentives for businesses to invest in sustainable, ecologically
sound fish-farming projects. At the same time, environmental risks should be evaluated
and best practices should be in place before permits are granted.

In sum, the federal marine aquaculture program should be
“precautionary, science-based, socially and economically compatible with
affected coastal communities, transparent in decision making,” the Marine
Aquaculture Task Force wrote in its final report.

Offshore aquaculture has some natural advantages over
coastal fish-farming operations because open-ocean winds, waves, and currents
can naturally remove excess feed and wastes. Moving operations offshore also reduces
conflict with recreational and real estate interests.

But there are environmental and ecological questions, such
as which species should be farmed and where, and what level of discharges from
aquaculture facilities can be safely absorbed by the ocean. Some researchers
are concerned that domesticated fish—and the medicines and disease outbreaks
sometimes associated with high-density fish farms—could threaten natural stocks
of fish.

“Our group set out to review the state of knowledge about
open-ocean aquaculture and to bring interested parties together to see what is
needed to move ahead in an environmentally and economically sound manner,” said
task force science director Judy McDowell, chair of the WHOI Biology Department
and director of the Woods Hole Sea Grant program. “People came from different
points of view, honestly expressed their opinions—though sometimes
divergent—and worked hard to build a consensus.”

Since the summer of 2005, the task force has conducted fact-finding trips and public
hearings in Seattle, Waimanalo (Hawaii),
Anchorage, Tampa, and Woods Hole (Mass.). Members reviewed
scientific literature and interviewed representatives of industry, coastal
management, fishing, tribal, and conservation groups.

“We listened to the fishermen and others whose lives and livelihoods
are tied to the oceans,” said former Alaska
state senator Arliss Sturgulewski. “Because of the potential impacts on
fisheries-dependent communities, there is strong disagreement about whether marine
fish farming should expand. But there is universal agreement that if it does go
forward, it should be done with appropriate safeguards for and consultation
with coastal states and communities.”

Bill Dewey, public affairs manager at Taylor
Shellfish (Washington),
offered this perspective. “It’s important to remember that marine aquaculture
is not brand new. Our company has been sustainably farming shellfish in and
around Puget Sound for five generations. The
bays in which we farm are some of the cleanest in the country because of our
dedicated efforts to protect or restore them. As we diversify species and
methods used in aquaculture I appreciate the Task Force’s effort to balance appropriate
aquaculture regulations with private-sector initiatives to reward
environmentally beneficial practices.”

“If we are going move offshore with aquaculture, we should
do it right and make sure the right policies and regulations are in place,”
Pittenger added. “Modern agriculture developed without a lot of oversight and
regulation, leading us to a lot of our current problems with pollution from
fertilizers and pesticides. We don’t want to repeat the same mistakes in the

views expressed by the members of the Marine Aquaculture Task Force do not
necessarily represent the views and positions held by the Woods Hole
Oceanographic Institution.

WHOI is a private, independent marine research, engineering,
and higher education organization in Falmouth, Mass. WHOI’s primary mission is
to understand the oceans and their interaction with the Earth as a whole, and
to communicate a basic understanding of the ocean’s role in the changing global
environment. Established in 1930 on a recommendation from the U.S. National
Academy of Sciences, the Institution is organized into five departments,
interdisciplinary institutes and a marine policy center, and conducts a joint
graduate education program with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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Members of the Marine Aquaculture Task Force

Rear Adm. (ret.) Richard F. Pittenger, Chair

Former Vice President for Marine Operations, now Special Assistant for Strategic Planning
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Woods Hole, Massachusetts

Bruce Anderson, Ph.D.


Oceanic Institute


Daniel Benetti, Ph.D.

Director, Aquaculture Program

of Miami

Miami, Florida

Paul Dayton, Ph.D.

Professor of Oceanography

Scripps Institution of Oceanography


Bill Dewey

Taylor Shellfish Co., Inc.


Rebecca Goldburg, Ph.D.

Senior Scientist

Environmental Defense

New York,
New York

Alison Rieser

Dai Ho Chun Distinguished Chair in Arts and Sciences

of Hawaii, Manoa

Byron Sher
State Senator

Arliss Sturgulewski

State Senator