The push for industrialized fish farms in offshore waters is gaining steam among American lawmakers.

Alaska bans fish farms but the Trump Administration proposes to put net pens in federal waters, meaning from three to 200 miles out.  The farms are being touted as a silver bullet to boost seafood production, provide jobs and reduce the nation’s $15 billion seafood trade deficit from importing over 85 percent of its seafood.

Since last June a coalition called Stronger America Through Seafood has swelled from 14 to 21 companies, including Cargill, Red Lobster, Sysco, Pacific Seafoods and Seattle Fish Company.

Currently there is only one offshore farm operating in U.S. waters –  a mussel farm called Catalina Sea Ranch  six miles off the coast of Los Angeles, California.

 At a U.S. Commerce Department hearing in Juneau in September spokesperson Margaret Henderson told CoastAlaska that Alaska’s stance was a sticking point –

 “We in no way mean to impede a state’s authority to manage their own waters, but when it comes to managing federal waters outside the state line we think that there’s a balance to be had there, that there’s room for both.”

Undercurrent News reports the group has begun collecting signatures to support legislation to streamline the permitting process for offshore fish farms and plans to submit its petition to Congress on February 6.

A first effort failed, but the Advancing the Quality and Understanding of American Aquaculture (AQUAA) Act will be reintroduced soon in the US House and Senate by lawmakers from Mississippi, Florida and Minnesota.

At the Alaska hearing, Under Secretary of Commerce Timothy Gallaudet cited climate change in his pitch for the fish farms.

“Some of the changes in the environment are affecting fish stocks. They are either moving or they’re not thriving and so this aquaculture, done the right way and scientifically based, provides a means for employment of fishermen who are losing some of their gain through these changing conditions.”

A group of about 140 small scale fishermen and groups has formed to fight the push. Sam Rabung, new director of Alaska’s commercial fisheries division also spoke out against offshore fish farms.

“I think it’s safe to say that we’re going to fight pretty hard to maintain the state’s opt-out option and maintain the ability to prohibit finfish farming off of Alaska.”

Thanks to the audio assist from CoastAlaska. 

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