USA: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is creating a plan to manage commercial fish farms in federal waters, the area of ocean from three to 200 miles offshore, around Hawaii and other Pacific islands.
The US government sees aquaculture as a promising solution to feeding a hungry planet, and to address the threat commercial fishing is posing on fish populations worldwide. The program is similar to one recently implemented by NOAA in the Gulf of Mexico.
The initiative is worrying some environmentalists, who argue that industrial scale aquaculture farms could do more harm than good to fish stocks in general and to ocean health, according to a report by Associated Press.
Besides, they say, modern aquaculture carries pollution risks and the potential for non-native farmed fish to escape and enter the natural ecosystem.
According to former NOAA chief scientist and founder of ocean advocacy group Mission Blue, Sylvia Earle, there are more environmentally sustainable and economically viable options than open-ocean aquaculture, which uses floating net-pens or submerged cages.
Last year, NOAA and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography valued at USD 17 billion a year on the ocean off the west coasts of North and South America. That includes USD 4.3 billion from commercial and sport fishing and USD 12.9 billion for the capture of carbon.
Michael Tosatto, NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service regional administrator, explained that many foreign operations have US companies supplying the breed stock, so the fish are grown and sold back to the United States as imported seafood.
Fish farmed in the United States in 2014 amounted to USD 1.3 billion, that is to say, 19 percent of the nation's seafood production, and only 1 percent of the global farmed product.
NOAA has been trying to establish an aquaculture industry in federal waters for many years, but its attempts to get legislation to implement aquaculture on the high seas have failed.
Marianne Cufone, executive director of the Recirculating Farms Coalition, based in New Orleans, which is developing fully-contained terrestrial aquaculture systems stresses that these types of farms are more sustainable than ocean aquaculture.
Earle agrees with that position, and argues that "Controlled systems are the most promising."
Meawhile, Michael Rubino, director of NOAA's aquaculture program, stressed, "All forms of aquaculture can be done responsibly or irresponsibly. We will need all the forms well done to meet the demand for seafood and the healthy objectives of the ocean."