Johns Hopkins: Near and Offshore Finfish Aquaculture Poses Risks

Expanding nearshore finfish farming or establishing an offshore industry in the U.S. carries significant risks to aquatic ecosystems and public health, according to a report published by researchers at Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, in the Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Department of Environmental Health and Engineering.

The report assesses whether an expanded industry in the US would be environmentally sound and safe based on current production practices.The research team found the major issues surrounding NOFA to be: large numbers of recent farmed fish escapes, infectious disease outbreaks on farms, development of drug resistant parasites and bacteria, persistence of veterinary drugs in the environment, fish waste causing local and regional ecosystem impacts, and dangers that could cause elevated rates of injury and death among workers.

See the full report here.

Federal Fish Farming Lawsuit Moves Forward

On September 21st commercial and recreational fishing groups, and conservation, consumer and farming organizations jointly filed their arguments in a legal brief on why the federal government cannot allow industrial aquaculture in U.S. waters. Read more here.

The new filings are notably significant, as the entire case could be won or lost on the information just submitted. The next likely steps in the suit are for the government to respond to the arguments made by the groups regarding why the government should not make this rule allowing fish farming in the Gulf of Mexico, and then for the judge to render a decision.

MSC Reviews Gulf Menhaden Fishery For Label

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is a private labeling enterprise that reviews fisheries worldwide for certification to their standards. Companies seeking certification for their fisheries pay a fee to the MSC for review and certification. Fisheries are rarely entirely denied the label, though some fisheries have been given conditional certification if they make certain changes or improvements. Whether the label does or does not actually represent “sustainability” in fishing, the MSC label is one of the few that consumers often recognize on seafood, in large part due to intensive outreach and marketing. Name recognition may encourage shoppers to buy MSC labeled seafood.

Over recent months, MSC has been reviewing the Gulf menhaden fishery at the request of Omega Protein. Most people are not familiar with menhaden, (aka “pogies”in the Gulf). This is because menhaden is mostly a bait and reduction fishery – meaning menhaden aren’t eaten directly by people as an entree – most are “reduced” to fish oil and fishmeal for use in pet feed, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals (like fish oil pills) among other products and some is used directly as bait for catching other fish. Menhaden is the second largest fishery by weight in the United States, with over 1 billion pounds caught annually from the Gulf of Mexico.

Menhaden have been called the “most important fish in the sea”. These small fish are critical to the ecosystem – many larger fish in the Gulf rely on them as food, as do marine mammals like dolphins, and sea birds. They also are filter feeders so they can help maintain the quality of Gulf waters.

Menhaden are caught using spotter planes and encircling nets – so anything near the school of fish – like dolphins, sharks, and other fish, might get caught and killed too when the entire school of fish is scooped up and pulled in. The unintentional catch of other marine life is called “bycatch”. The menhaden industry itself acknowledges about a 1-3 percent “bycatch” rate, which sounds like not much, but considering over a billion pounds of menhaden are pulled from the Gulf each year, that means about 1-3 million pounds of bycatch annually, along with it.

The menhaden industry in the Gulf is just two companies – so most information is considered “confidential” – people cannot get enough good information about the fishery to know whether it could be considered sustainable or not. It is therefore difficult to support any MSC certification when there is little current publicly available information to confirm it.

Also concerning, is that there is no catch cap on Gulf menhaden except in Texas state waters. So companies can catch as much of these fish as they are able. Gulf menhaden are caught mainly in Louisiana waters and the rest in Mississippi, Alabama and Texas. Menhaden are also caught in the Atlantic, where there is an annual limit. This means that companies could reach the annual catch cap in the Atlantic, and then go fish more in the Gulf.

With a current push for more aquaculture in the U.S., there may be a rise in need for menhaden to feed the farmed fish. Also, getting an MSC certification might increase sales of menhaden, and products with menhaden in them, to those who would think it is more sustainable than other sources once it has the MSC label.

We are now waiting for MSC’s decision on Gulf menhaden.

Learn more about Gulf menhaden here.

RFC Builds Farm to Feed Homeless in NOLA

What a great week we had here at RFC in New Orleans! We initiated our partnership with the New Orleans Mission, an organization dedicated to supporting the homeless in our city. We installed raised garden beds at the Mission’s Women’s House and many of the women residing there were excited to get involved. Check out the story WGNO ran about it.

When our work in the garden was done, we picked some of the sweet limes and rosemary that were already growing there and made fresh rosemary limeade. We all enjoyed getting to know each other. We’ll be spending more time together in the coming months, as we’ll host gardening and health supportive cooking classes at the Mission regularly now.

Next up – a new garden for the Mission gents too and an urban farmer training program! Stay tuned.

 

Organics and Earth Day

At its meeting in Colorado on April 21, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), an advisory committee to the USDA National Organic Program, had a long discussion about whether hydroponic and aquaponic farms could keep USDA Organic certification. The Board reviewed what the term “Organic” means in the United States and other countries. The largest debate is over whether “Organic” requires soil, but there was little mention about other efficient resource use.

Hydroponics and aquaponics are sustainable systems and they are important for the future of agriculture because they reuse waste and water, they can use less energy, they can run on alternative energy, they are space efficient, they are versatile and today, organics should be about more than soil. It should be about the whole picture. We should be looking to improve our planet and these types of farms at their very core are eco-efficient.

It was especially ironic that the NOSB was considering pulling Organic certification from such highly eco-friendly farms on the day before Earth Day. Fortunately, the Board recognized that it needed more information before making such a crucial decision, and deferred their final recommendation until its next meeting in the Fall, and possibly even longer.

RFC member farmers, including Michael Hasey of The Farming Fish in Oregon (who brought pesto from his farm for the board and attendees to sample), also attended the meeting and provided comments and information to the NOSB.  Tawnya Sawyer of Colorado Aquaponics offered NOSB members a tour of her facility at The GrowHaus there in Denver.  A number of the board members participated.

Click here to see the statement RFC’s Executive Director, Marianne Cufone, released to the media on Friday, and click here for RFC’s comments to the NOSB.