By C. Greg Lutz
We often hear about how regulations stand in the way of progress for aquaculture production – especially in the US. NOAA’s recent decision to move forward with implementing the Rule for the Fisheries Management Plan for aquaculture in the Gulf of Mexico is an interesting example. For those of us who have tried to wade through all the details, the question inevitably emerges: is this about perseverance or pipe-dreams? Sure, there is FINALLY a path to follow for anyone wanting to attempt offshore production in Gulf waters, but what lies along the way? This path to progress has a number of built-in check points where you can arbitrarily be detained. As our columnist Neil Anthony Sims explains, the NOAA permit (when or if you get one- supplies are limited so call now before time runs out!) only allows you to “grow the fish.”
This permit process is a bureaucratic regulatory civil servant’s wildest fantasy. NOAA is just a part of the puzzle. The Army Corps of Engineers and the Coast Guard may or may not allow you to deploy your cages and all the hardware that goes with them. And the Corps can consider “input” from any other Federal agencies, even if it comes from some paper pushing career obstructionist with a bone to pick. Your fish, for their part, will need the Environmental Protection Agency’s permission to relieve themselves in the open sea. Oil and gas interests can express any concerns to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. And you’ll have to find a way to make nice with the locals to avoid any resentment from the fact that fishing won’t be allowed near your cages and to convince one and all that you are not in conflict with the local Coastal Zone Management Plan. If by some miracle the stars and planets align and you get your permit… it’s only good for 10 years at which point a vague, ill-defined renewal process must be endured. And that’s just the broad brush summary…
In the case of Pangasius (tra, swai, or basa) producers in Vietnam, new regulations in the US and in their own country will have tremendous impacts over the next several years. In terms of within-country regulations, there is considerable distress among farmers over requirements outlined in a recent government decree and the perceived potential for the processing sector to damage the industry’s export markets through quality issues such as added water weight and glazing.
A bigger problem for the industry, however, may be the development and imposition of a new food safety system that will ultimately be evaluated by the US FSIS. If a rigorous government inspection and enforcement system covering farms, plants, laboratories and other critical quality control points along the value chain cannot be implemented to the FSIS’ satisfaction, the industry as a whole could face serious sanctions, and loss of its primary export market. Additionally… if internal corruption undermines the effectiveness of such a system, the industry could suffer the same results.
Government support for aquaculture always gets headlines, but very few producers ever see any real financial assistance apart from a handful of politically connected operations. In Europe, the government agencies seem to put their money where their mouth is (or the public’s money, anyway…). And, the International Monetary Fund is putting someone’s money out there to further develop the shrimp farming industry in Ecuador. But for US aquaculture, direct assistance to the real industry, the producers, remains entirely out of the question in the foreseeable future. In the meantime, bankers have finally begun to reach out once more to producers in the US catfish industry.
Certification continues to spread across the production sector, with producers, processors, retailers and consumers taking notice. However, in many cases the whole certification exercise may result in little long-term improvement in sustainability. Drs. Claude Boyd and Aaron McNevin resume their discussion on this topic in The Long View, and make some convincing arguments that some tweaking is probably in order. Another argument for tweaking the status quo is presented by Dr. Michael Rice in our shellfish column. And who knows… things may change. Every so often, logic prevails.
Dr. C. Greg Lutz has a B.A. in Biology and Spanish by the Earlham College at Richmond, Indiana, a M.S. in Fisheries and a Ph.D. in Wildlife and Fisheries Science by the Louisiana State University. His interests include recirculating system technology and population dynamics, quantitative genetics and multivariate analyses and the use of web based technology for result-demonstration methods.