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Feds Declare End of Wild Ocean Fisheries

Belford, NJ

Belford, NJ

[Update: 2/21/11 – Sunday’s WaPo echoed the “end of the wild”: Predator fish in oceans on alarming decline, experts say

Over the past 100 years, some two-thirds of the large predator fish in the ocean have been caught and consumed by humans, and in the decades ahead the rest are likely to perish, too.

…  This grim reckoning was presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting Friday during a panel that asked the question: “2050: Will there be fish in the ocean?” [end update]

The Obama Administration’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) yesterday released a new draft policy on aquaculture (e.g. industrial farming of the ocean for sea food and other commercial products).  (NY Times story: U.S. Proposes Aquaculture Guidelines

The proposal includes a sad admission: the end of wild fisheries (which aren’t viewed as wild animals, but as “stocks” for commercial harvest to meet economic demand):

“Because wild stocks are not projected to meet increased demand even with rebuilding efforts, future increases in supply are likely to come either from foreign aquaculture or increased domestic aquaculture production, or some combination of both.”

Among the “environmental challenges” NOAA sees  are:

Environmental challenges posed by aquaculture, depending upon the type, scope, and location of aquaculture activity, may include nutrient and chemical wastes, water use demands, aquatic animal diseases and invasive species, potential competitive and genetic effects on wild species, effects on endangered or protected species, effects on protected and sensitive marine areas, effects on habitat for other species, and the use of forage fish for aquaculture feeds. Economic and social challenges may include market competition affecting the viability of competition with other uses of the marine environment; degraded habitats and ecosystem services; and impacts to diverse cultural traditions and values.

One would assume that NJ based ocean protection groups that oppose “the industrialization of the ocean” will be aggressively urging the public and Governor Christie to oppose the NOAA policy, as its prime objective is to further  industrialize and commercialize the ocean:

Purpose

The purpose of this policy is to enable the development of sustainable marine aquaculture within the context of NOAA’s multiple stewardship missions and broader social and economic goals. Meeting this objective will require NOAA to integrate environmental, social, and economic considerations in management decisions concerning aquaculture. This policy reaffirms that aquaculture is an important component of NOAA’s efforts to maintain healthy and productive marine and coastal ecosystems, protect special marine areas, rebuild overfished wild stocks, restore populations of endangered species, restore and conserve marine and coastal habitat, balance competing uses of the marine environment, create employment and business opportunities in coastal communities, and enable the production of safe and sustainable seafood.

Given Governor Christie’s self-described and highly praised commitments to protect the ocean and NJ fisheries, although he lacks veto power over NOAA, perhaps he can work on a bi-partisan basis with the NJ Congressional delegation to strengthen NOAA’s policy.

From my limited perspective, the proposal amounts to a big punt on the most critical issue of concern, which is whether we have a national, science based oceans policy, or the voluntary, fishing industry dominated chaos at the regional fisheries management councils. Here’s the key language, which is evidence of the big fold:

Regulation 

  • Work with Congress, federal agencies, Fishery Management Councils, and federal advisory councils or committees to clarify NOAA’s regulatory authority related to aquaculture in federal waters and to establish a coordinated, comprehensive, transparent, and efficient regulatory program for marine aquaculture in federal waters based on criteria for sustainable marine aquaculture.

  • Work with federal, state, local, tribal, and regional agencies and organizations to clarify regulatory requirements and to establish coordinated, comprehensive, science-based, transparent, and efficient processes for permit reviews, permit consultations, and other regulatory and management actions for marine aquaculture in state waters – taking into account existing authorities and regional, state, and local goals, policies, and objectives.

The public comment period on the proposal closes on April 11, 2011. We’ll keep you posted.

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