Stakeholders in the US fishing industry recently issued an open letter to President Biden calling on him to rescind an executive order that supports offshore industrial fish farming in the United States.
Introduced by the Trump administration in 2020, Executive Order 13921 allows the development of industrial fish farming without congressional scrutiny.
Fish farming, or aquaculture, is the process of raising fish in giant net pens in the ocean. According to a FoodPrint report, when done incorrectly, industrial practices can harm marine ecosystems when non-native food, waste, medicine or fish leak out of enclosures.
Don’t Cage Our Oceans, a coalition of environmental organizations that advocate for the ocean and which leads the publication of the open letter, believes it is imperative to stop industrial aquaculture.
“If we don’t stop the continued expansion of industrial fish farming, our endangered wild fish populations will continue to decline at an alarming rate,” Don’t Cage Our Oceans campaign director Andrianna Natsoulas told Food Tank. . She says the executive order “will jeopardize the survival of our sustainable and community-based fishing businesses, as well as thriving sustainable fish farmers who are embedded in their local food communities.”
Natsoulas estimates that the open letter, which is signed by 177 national and regional organisations, represents “the appeals of almost 9 million individuals, 5,000 fishing companies and 70,000 food producers”.
Adriana Kusnirova, owner of sustainable fishing company Alaska Fresh and a signatory to the letter, fears the executive order could put her business at risk if it is not rescinded. While fish farming is currently illegal in Alaska, she fears the farms will be allowed in state waters and harm her catch.
Kusnirova also warns of cultural loss due to the collapse of small-scale fishing communities due to large-scale aquaculture. She tells Food Tank, “A lot of native villages, especially in Alaska, exist because of fishing, and [the Executive Order] would have a negative effect on indigenous communities.
According to a press release from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Trump’s executive order “will propel the United States forward as a seafood superpower.”
But Jean Flemma, co-founder of Urban Ocean Lab, who has been involved in the American policy debate regarding offshore aquaculture for 30 years, criticizes the executive order for its lack of regulatory oversight.
Flemma tells Food Tank that if the United States becomes involved in offshore aquaculture, “we need to make sure that we are very careful to minimize potential impacts and maximize benefits to local communities, ecosystems, and our country. “. For Flemma, the best way to achieve this is through legislation and regulatory oversight.
Nastoulas is also advocating for the Keep Finfish Free Act, which, if passed, will introduce congressional oversight over aquaculture development. “The bill would act as a critical brake mechanism on the rapid advancement of aquaculture projects that pollute our waters, disrupt our ecosystem and threaten small businesses,” Nastoulas told Food Tank.
Nastoulas also encourages consumers to support coastal communities through the fish they buy. “Now more than ever, it’s essential that we as consumers buy as much locally sourced and sustainably sourced seafood as possible.”
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Photo courtesy of Bob Brewer, Unsplash