Commerce backs fish farm growth

The Bush administration has released a new version of a bill to encourage development of fish farms to meet a growing national taste for seafood, after failing to whet Congress’s appetite for an earlier iteration.

Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez told a Boston audience that the measure, which would allow fish farming in federal waters for the first time, was necessary to allow native fish stocks more time to recover from over-fishing and would provide the economy a new source of revenue.

“The best way to meet … rising demand is by managing wild fisheries effectively, and by expanding our seafood production through aquaculture,” Gutierrez told the National Fisheries Institute yesterday.

In a subsequent interview with The Hill, Gutierrez said the new measure differed in a number of ways from the original legislation, introduced in 2005.

For example, it establishes explicit requirements for the Commerce secretary to establish environmental standards for fish farms, the waste from which can greatly pollute ocean waters. Environmental groups worried the original bill did not provide sufficient environmental safeguards.

The bill also provides the choice to opt out of the law, something Sen. Ted Stevens (R) of Alaska suggested when Congress first took up the administration’s fish-farm proposal.

Fish farming is now relegated to state waters, which extend from shorelines out three miles in the ocean and in interior freshwater rivers and lakes. It is still a $1 billion business, most of that money coming from inland catfish farms.

Commerce had originally said the business would grow to $5 billion over the next two decades.
“There is a real need for this,” Gutierrez told The Hill.

The United States now operates at an $8 billion seafood trade deficit. America’s appetite for seafood is already largely filled by imports; 70 percent of the seafood Americans consume is imported. Half of those imports are farm-raised.
“We are consuming a lot of farm-raised fish today,” Gutierrez said.

“We can do it in an environmentally sound way, an economically sound way, and in a way that creates jobs in our country,” he said.