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.