Stakeholders from the U.S. fishing industry recently released an open letter to President Biden calling on him to overturn an Executive Order that supports industrial offshore fish farming in the United States.
Introduced by the Trump Administration in 2020, Executive Order 13921 allows for the development of industrial fish farming without Congressional oversight.
Fish farming, or aquaculture, is the process of farming fish in giant net-pens in the ocean. According to a report from FoodPrint, when done improperly, industrial practices can harm marine ecosystems when feed, waste, drugs, or non-native fish escape the pens.
Don’t Cage Our Oceans, a coalition of environmental organizations that advocate for the ocean that is leading the release of the open letter, believes it is imperative to halt industrial aquaculture.
“If we do not stop the continued expansion of industrial fish farming, our threatened wild fish populations will continue to diminish at an alarming rate,” Andrianna Natsoulas, Campaign Director of Don’t Cage Our Oceans, tells Food Tank. She says that the Executive Order will “jeopardize the survival of our sustainable, community-based fishing businesses, as well as the burgeoning 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 organizations, represents “calls from nearly 9 million individuals, 5,000 fishing businesses and 70,000 food producers.”
Adriana Kusnirova, Owner of the sustainable fishing company Alaska Fresh and a signee of the letter, is concerned that the Executive Order will put her business at risk, if not overturned. While fish farming is currently illegal in Alaska, she worries that farms will be allowed in state waters and adversely affect her catch.
Kusnirova also warns of the cultural loss from the collapse of small-scale fishing communities due to large-scale aquaculture. She tells Food Tank, “a lot of native villages, especially in Alaska, are in existence because of fishing, and [the Executive Order] would have a negative effect on Indigenous communities.”
According to a press release by 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 U.S. 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 U.S. will get involved in offshore aquaculture, “we need to make sure that we are very careful about ensuring that we are minimizing any potential impacts, and maximizing benefits to local communities, ecosystems, and our country.” For Flemma, the best way to ensure this is through legislation and regulatory oversight.
Nastoulas is similarly advocating for the Keep Finfish Free Act, which, if passed, will introduce Congressional oversight to aquaculture development. “The Bill would act as a critical brake mechanism on rapidly advancing aquaculture projects that pollute our waters, disrupt our ecosystem and threaten small businesses,” Nastoulas tells Food Tank.
Nastoulas also encourages consumers to support coastal communities through the fish they purchase. “Now more than ever, it is critical that we, as consumers, buy seafood products that are locally and sustainably sourced as much as possible.”
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Photo courtesy of Bob Brewer, Unsplash