Ocean fish farms in the Gulf of Mexico

It’s been a number of years since the federal government continued pushing to allow large floating cages filled with fish in our already stressed Gulf waters. Believe it or not, National Marine Fisheries Service – the agency tasked with conservation and management of all things fish and fishing in the U.S. – is trying to get people to believe that growing fish is the same as fishing, and therefore the agency is able to permit industrial fish farming operations in the Gulf of Mexico – and SOON! Last week, NMFS (pronounced “Nymphs”) announced that regulations to allow open water fish farms as close as 3 miles offshore in the Gulf are about to be finalized. There is a 60 day open public comment period right now, and following, the new law would be published as final.

Open water fish farming has a global history of serious problems – from massive pollution to interference with other ocean uses like fishing, diving, swimming and boating. Experimental operations have mostly done poorly in the U.S., requiring huge inputs of public dollars to remain open or failing and closing.

Recirculating farms grew in popularity as a response to development of open water fish farms years ago, because closed loop systems avoid most of the problems created in open water farms – there is no outflow of pollution, fish can’t escape, it’s harder for diseases and parasites to get to the fish, and there is no interference with wildlife. There is just no need to move forward with outdated open water commercial fish farms at this time when there are better, more sustainable options available today.

But for some reason, NMFS keeps pushing forward with allowing commercial fish farms in the ocean, starting with the Gulf of Mexico. In recent years, the Gulf has been battered by hurricanes, covered in oil and then sprayed above and below with chemicals in an effort to mask the terrible effects of the spill. The Gulf, its the  wildlife and all the people who live near and work on and in Gulf waters can not handle the effects that can come with industrial aquaculture on top of the already existing problems.

And its not just about the Gulf – if this law is finalized, NMFS will try to issue permits in other places around the U.S. as well – where’s next? New England? California? Please join us in telling NMFS we don’t want industrial fish farms in the Gulf of Mexico -or any other U.S. waters.

2014 Farm Bill

Both the House and Senate of the U.S. Congress have now passed the same version of the Agriculture Act of 2014, the reauthorization of the law commonly known as the Farm Bill. President Obama is expected to sign the legislation, making it law soon. The new Farm Bill comes with changes not just for farmers, but also for children, low-income communities and many others nationwide on food access and quality.

While the Bill includes some important provisions, after a more than 2-year wait for its finalization, it is not what it could or should be. Among its weaknesses is the failure to formally recognize recirculating farming as an expanding part of U.S. agriculture. Farmers who use recirculating hydroponic, aquaculture and aquaponic methods for growing are building an innovative, eco-friendly industry to supplement other sustainable growing practices and transition our country from factory farming, back to a local food based system.

The Recirculating Farms Coalition is greatly disappointed that Congress missed this easy opportunity to acknowledge recirculating farming as a notable and meaningful contribution to U.S. agriculture and our food systems. We hope that President Obama will revisit this and other critical issues before the end of his final term in office, and show a type of forward-thinking leadership that is necessary for the U.S.

Read more about the 2014 Farm Bill.

World Largest Salmon Farming Co on NYSE

The world’s biggest salmon farmer, Marine Harvest, will be listed on the New York Stock Exchange, joining other companies that raise animals for food, like Tyson and Sanderson Farms. The company says the move is designed to help them attract more interest in aquaculture. “We want to grow even faster,” Marine Harvest Chief Executive Alf-Helge Aarskog said.

Norway’s fish-farming industry has seen rapid growth over the past 40 years, becoming the second-largest fish exporter after China as of the beginning of this decade. However, the company has seen many challenges – diseases, fish escapes, concerns with pollution – all problems associated with open water fish farming.

Interestingly, the Norway company’s news follows close behind an announcement from a new Canadian fish farm leading the way for the country to transition from open water salmon farming, toward land-based recirculating aquaculture because it is more sustainable.

Globally, open water aquaculture has been the subject of heated debate, including in the United States. Hawaii and the Gulf of Mexico in particular have seen battles over permits being considered under questionable legal circumstances (there is no regulatory regime in place in federal waters to allow fish farming). U.S. Congress had several bills introduced over time to set up a permitting structure for ocean aquaculture, but none of them made it out of committee, largely due to the strong public opposition from diverse interests.

The most current issue is that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (the government agency tasked with oceans management) is poised to approve regulations that for the first time would allow commercial ocean aquaculture permits to be issued in federal waters. People in the Gulf, still recovering from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil platform explosion and following massive oil spill, are understandably nervous about this. The idea of giant floating pens filled with fish eating, excreting and growing out in an already weakened and fragile Gulf where violent storms are not uncommon, seems unwise. It is easy to envision the waste, excess feed and the fish themselves, along with their structures strewn throughout the Gulf following even a mild hurricane. Commercial and recreational fishing groups, conservation and consumer organizations among others have all lodged their displeasure. Some plan to challenge the regulations when they are announced.

Learn more about open water aquaculture here.

Circle Grocery Opens in NOLA

Amid an enormous crowd of people gathered to celebrate the 8-year post Katrina reopening of the famous Circle Grocery in the 7th Ward, owner Dwayne Boudreaux, dressed in a bright yellow suit, asked, “Who would ever think that some crazy folks down in New Orleans would come out and be so excited about the opening of a grocery store?”

Lots of us, that’s who. In a city of approximately 369 thousand people, there are now just about 25 full service grocery stores, with several opening in recent years. If you do the math, that means nearly 15,000 people served per store; this is practically double the national average.

It’s ironic that a city so renown for it’s fine culinary traditions (think Cafe Du Monde beignets and chicory coffee, Creole and Cajun specialties, and that NOLA is home to well-publicized chefs like Emeril Lagasse and John Besh) also is one of the worst food deserts in the U.S. At a time when 1 of every 5 people nationwide say they struggle to afford food (and this doesn’t necessarily mean healthy fresh food), it’s again become a priority in many communities to create ways to better feed themselves. Various efforts throughout the Big Easy are now focused on this:

Hollygrove Market and Farm – this unique combination of community garden and market lives uptown off Carrollton Ave., one of the most traveled thoroughfares in the city. In addition to providing plots for people to grow their own gardens, staff collects fresh produce from various farms and brings it to the Hollygrove market for sale to the public.

Crescent City Farmers Market -is run by marketumbrella.org, a non-profit organization founded in 1995 as a part of the Twomey Center for Peace Through Justice at Loyola University New Orleans. The group hosts 3 weekly farm/fish markets in various locations throughout the city.

Grow Dat Youth Farm – is a farming youth training program that uses agriculture to inspire people to undertake personal, social and environmental change in their own communities. The farm produces healthy food for sale to local residents.

and several other in-progress projects:

HECK of a Neighborhood Grocery – (short for: The Health Education Center, Organic Farm And Neighborhood Grocery) is a vision for a fresh, affordable and healthy food grocery store in Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans. The founders plan to establish a farm that would help to supply the store.

Develop Abundance – a planned aquaponic farm (raising fish to provide nutrients to grow various leafy greens) in the Lower Ninth Ward.

and our own Growing Local NOLA – an urban food and farm center located in Central City. The facility has two pieces – one a public campus for farmer training and other educational classes like farm to table health supportive cooking, activities such as yoga in the garden, and areas for neighbors to grow their own food; and a second, separate area, for a full commercial hydroponic and aquaponic farm that will grow products for sale to businesses and the public.

The reopening of Circle Food Store marks an important milestone in the rebuilding of New Orleans, and also shines a light on other meaningful projects in the City.

Canada Embraces Recirculating Farming

Recirculating aquaculture is getting the spotlight early in 2014 with Canada announcing a new Vancouver Island facility that is raising salmon commercially in a completely land-based system. The new endeavor has created much discussion about how recirculating farms are changing the landscape for farming across the continent and that open water aquaculture should be a thing of the past.

For far too long, ocean fish farming has been a serious concern, with documented negative ecological impacts. Recirculating farms are not only a more sustainable alternative for the environment, they also provide access to local, fresh fish in places where previously there was none, such as the Canadian prairies.

In March, the first batch of salmon from this new on-land Canadian fish farm will be ready for market. Read more about the project and Canada’s new aquaculture developments.