New federal aquaculture policy paves way for Gulf of Mexico fish farms


By Benjamin Alexander-Bloch, The Times-Picayune
June 9, 2011

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s national aquaculture policy released Thursday paves the way for the Gulf of Mexico to be the first region in the country to develop open-ocean aquaculture in federal waters, potentially reaping another 64 million pounds of seafood from the ocean.

Within a year, businesses could begin applying for permits to establish red snapper, grouper and other finfish-farms in Gulf federal waters, which in Louisiana extend from three to 200 miles offshore.

In 2009, the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council, a regional advisory body that sets fishing regulations in the Gulf for NOAA’s Fisheries Service, established its Gulf fish-farming plan. But the plan has sat, officially in place but unusable, awaiting formal NOAA regulations.

The Gulf council’s plan calls for 10-year offshore fish-farm permits with a total cap on farmed fish production at 64 million pounds. The council initially expected about five to 20 such operations to emerge within the first 10 years, but with start-up costs estimated in the $5 million to $10 million range, the level of interest largely is unknown.

The plan prohibits shrimp farming, and only allows the raising of native Gulf species.

Michael Rubino, the manager of NOAA’s aquaculture program, said the Gulf council plan will go through a typical, multi-tiered review process that will culminate in a public comment period. He said that process likely would take about a year to complete and largely would only focus on implementation, with the nuts and bolts of the plan remaining untouched.

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