Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a decision on a very important lawsuit about ocean fish farming. Several groups had sued to stop the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the federal agency responsible for conservation and management of ocean resources, like fish, from issuing a permit to an ocean fish farming company in Hawaii.
The lower court initially ruled against the groups, saying that aquaculture was a form of fishing and therefore the agency, which is tasked with regulating fish and fishing in U.S. waters, was able to issue such permits. The lower court also ruled that the agency was under no obligation to study the impacts of allowing fish farms in federal waters, once the facility’s activities had terminated.
This decision was appealed, and NMFS contended that the groups had no standing even to appeal.
Today, the Appellate Court reversed some of the lower court’s decision and rejected the agency’s argument about standing.
Marianne Cufone, Executive Director of the Recirculating Farms Coalition (and past Director of the Oceans and Fish Program at Food and Water Watch, one of the groups on the lawsuit) said, “We are pleased that the higher Court acknowledged that the groups did in fact have standing to sue – meaning public concern regarding how ocean resources are used is a recognizable right. We are also very pleased that the Court said NMFS is not off the hook for studying the impacts of its permits after this type of project is finished.”
Though the Court decided the agency was able to issue a permit in this limited circumstance, the court specifically found that the permit set no precedent.
“The ruling supports that NMFS does not have blanket authority to permit ocean fish farming in U.S. waters, and should immediately stop its attempts to permit fish farming in the Gulf of Mexico and off the Hawaiian coast, both of which were premised on the lower court’s original ruling in this case.” Cufone said. She continued, “We hope NMFS and others pushing ocean aquaculture will now get on board with alternate more sustainable forms of fish farming rather than continually trying to promote outdated, unpopular approaches that are not authorized under existing law.”
Recirculating aquaculture systems and aquaponics involve raising fish in tanks on land. These methods are space and energy efficient, can run on alternative energy like solar power and recycle water and waste. We look forward to working with NMFS and other entities in developing eco-friendly fish farming practices in the U.S. and beyond.
Hey all you aquaponic farmers and gardeners out there – great news – we are making an impact on sustainable agriculture (well we always knew that of course- but now others are starting to notice too!) Johns Hopkins University and others created a special survey to collect information on aquaponic enthusiasts. This is a great opportunity for us to raise awareness in the U.S. (and beyond) about how and why we use aquaponics to grown fruits, herbs, vegetables, flowers, fish and more! Take the survey here!
Got questions or comments? Please direct them to Dr. Dave Love, Assistant Scientist at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Researchers from three schools– Johns Hopkins University, University of Maryland and West Virginia University – are combining forces to conduct the largest survey of the aquaponics field. The survey will collect critical information about production methods and community engagement among aquaponics hobbyists, educators, farmers and companies. The responses will help contribute to a better understanding of this rapidly growing field.
This confidential online survey takes about 15 minutes to complete, and survey respondents can enter a lottery to win one of four $75 Amazon gift certificates. The research team is encouraging individuals to take the survey and share it with others in the aquaponics community.
One of the biggest challenges in aquaculture today remains what to feed the fish. Catching wild fish to feed farmed fish is inefficient and can cause all sorts of ecological problems when there are not enough small prey fish to feed larger fish, marine mammals, and birds. Additionally, small fish are often a critical source of protein for food insecure, poorer coastal communities around the world. We do not want to deplete this resources.
For fish farming to be truly sustainable, we need to have a sustainable source of feed as well. Many recirculating farms are raising insects, worms, and even herbivorous fish to feed carnivorous fish, and the University of Rhode Island is exploring a promising new idea that supports fishermen too– using waste from fisheries to feed farmed fish.
The university is experimenting with the use of the scraps generated when scallops and squid are prepared for market as a potential replacement for wild fish in fish feed. In addition to providing a sustainable source of protein for carnivorous farmed fish, it also creates a supplemental income for fishermen.
We here at the Recirculating Farms Coalition have been working with farmers and scientists on sustainable feed for farmed fish, and we very much look forward to hearing about URI’s progress!
In college as well as K-12 grade, aquaponics is making its way to the classroom. This was the focal point of a conference at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, where speakers from around the country explored how recirculating farms can both provide fresh, healthy food for local cafeterias, and be a prominent program of study in and of itself.
The Stevens Point branch of the University of Wisconsin has been leading the development of aquaponics education over the past few years, serving as the first accredited university to offer semester-long aquaponics classes. Soon, program leaders hope to offer a full certificate course in aquaponics for students.
Another notable highlight of the conference was a mobile aquaponics unit, which is used to instruct K-12 students across California in recirculating aquaculture.
Click here to read more about the conference and exciting developments in aquaponics nationwide.
The Gulf of Mexico—and the many people that care about and depend on it for their livelihoods — have taken a beating in recent years; major hurricanes and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill continue to cause long term problems. Even as Gulf fisheries struggle to recover from the devastating impacts from these catastrophes, a new threat looms on the horizon, unbelievably from the very government agency tasked with protecting our U.S. marine resources.
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is the federal agency responsible for conserving and managing U.S. fisheries. It has been pushing for years to allow open water aquaculture – the farming of fin fish in ocean and Gulf waters – all around the U.S. Overwhelming public opposition has to date stopped all attempts by NMFS to push through a national law allowing ocean fish farms in U.S. waters. So the agency has turned to a much less public, legally questionable way to ram through regulations allowing fish farming – with the Gulf of Mexico as the first test site.
Last month, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, one of eight regional councils that act as advisory bodies to NMFS on all things fish and fishing, approved a plan to allow open ocean fish farming in the Gulf. The plan now goes to NMFS for final approval – which could come very soon – then it becomes law. Between five and twenty industrial fish farms will be permitted and could raise up to 64 million pounds of fish each year in the Gulf of Mexico.
To someone unfamiliar with the pitfalls of ocean fish farming, this may sound like a positive development. Seafood is a very popular menu item, and wild fish populations are struggling under pressures of pollution, algal blooms and consumer demand for fish. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, starting this year, the world will consume more farmed fish than wild fish. Aquaculture is increasingly necessary to feed a growing human population, so more fish farms must be a good thing, right?
Not when it comes to open ocean fish farming, unfortunately. As they currently operate, these facilities can be harmful to both marine ecosystems and local economies.
To understand the major problems associated with ocean fish farms, it’s important to picture one: thousands of fish trapped in massive cages, eating, excreting and growing. Fish feed, antibiotics and other chemicals can be regularly pumped into the pens, and the excess washed into the surrounding waters, causing a wide range of changes in the local ecosystem. Farmed fish frequently escape, thanks to inclement weather, predators causing damage to pens, or even human error or equipment failure. Escaped fish can spread disease and parasites to wild fish and out-compete them for food, habitat and mates. As a result, ocean fish farms can threaten the health of the same wild fish populations that supposedly would benefit from reduced fishing pressure thanks to increased availability of farmed fish.
Harm to wild fish and their habitat, of course, means economic harm to the fishermen too. In addition to perhaps a reduced abundance of wild fish thanks to pollution and other problems with ocean fish farms, local fishermen are also undercut by these aquaculture operations, which can sell their industrially produced fish at lower prices.
Fish farming and commercial fishing can coexist. Fish farms need to move out of ocean waters and move on land instead. Recirculating aquaculture (raising fish in tanks on land) and aquaponics (raising fish and plants together in the same closed-loop, land-based system) are two alternative, eco-friendly fish farming methods. By operating away from natural waters, recirculating fish farms prevent escapes, and waste can be collected and in many cases even reused. In addition, land-based farms can raise a wide variety of fish and therefore need not compete with fishermen catching popular local fish. The result is what everyone wants—more fresh, local fish—without massive environmental or economic harm.
The Gulf Council’s plan, by contrast, promotes a method of aquaculture that is harmful and outdated. And it ultimately undermines the Council’s own mission – to protect the health of wild fish stocks, for their continued sustainability and for the benefit of everyone who depends on them. The decision to allow open ocean aquaculture in the very fragile Gulf is a failure of that duty, and NMFS should not move forward with permitting open water fish farms in the Gulf of Mexico – or anywhere else.
Tell the National Marine Fisheries Service we don’t want ocean fish farms in our Gulf – or anywhere else!