Open-Ocean Fish Farm Maybe Coming to Gulf of Mexico
National Geographic features a short video on “The World’s Largest Open-Ocean Fish Farm”: Open Blue’s operations off the coast of Panama (May, 2014):
A five minute CNN 2012 segment on Open Blue below (from a longer CNN segment on Vimeo), notes most fish consumed in the U.S. is imported.
Economists emphasize the benefits of trade and argue importing goods produced less expensively overseas is usually good for consumers. Less expensive imported goods lower costs for consumers and also allow U.S. firms to focus on goods produced less expensively here, which can then be exported to the world. Plus, many goods, from automobiles to jet airplanes to iPhones, have parts designed and produced in many countries before final assembly. Trade restrictions would raise prices for consumers and disrupt production coordinated across borders.
Fish though are a concern because many are caught unsustainably in unmanaged international waters. So U.S. consumption of imported wild fish may contribute to collapse of fisheries around the world, and thereby further reduce available fish in less developed countries (where people have fewer alternate food sources, especially for protein).
A compelling case can be made for growing more seafood in the United States. The United States is a major consumer of aquaculture products—we import 91% of our seafood—yet we are a minor producer. Half of what we import is from aquaculture, yet we produce so little at home— only 5% of the U.S. seafood supply is from domestic freshwater and marine aquaculture.
U.S. consumption of fish from international waters is also discussed in this earlier post, drawing from an Paul Greenberg article in the University of Washington’s Conservation magazine.
Florida Sea Grant has an article on NOAA efforts to streamline the federal permitting process that has sent open-ocean fish farming operations like Open Blue to other countries:
The U.S. is now finalizing NOAA’s Gulf Aquaculture Plan, a proposal that would allow between 5 and 20 fish farms to set up shop in the federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico, producing up to 64 million pounds of native Gulf species, except shrimp and corals. The U.S. currently imports about 90 percent of its seafood. NOAA’s aquaculture plan is meant to help curb the nation’s $10.4 billion seafood trade deficit.
In the lab run by Daniel Benetti, director of aquaculture at the University of Miami, a team of researchers is evaluating the environmental impacts of open-ocean aquaculture on the marine ecosystem with $225,755 in research funding from Sea Grant.
Daniel Benetti and his team.
Daniel Benetti (second from left) and his team are working to solve some of the knowledge gaps of marine aquaculture. FSG photoThe researchers are working closely with Open Blue Sea Farms, a U.S. corporation that commercially farms cobia. Although Open Blue is using U.S. technology, the submersed cages are located off Panama due to hurdles in the U.S. permitting process.
Here is the longer version of CNN segment on Open Blue:
Vimeo story on Open Blue from 2012: Open Blue on CNN’s The Next List: Full Episode on Vimeo
For operations in U.S. waters, again the challenge is not only managing the complexities of raising fish in the open ocean, and dodging the occasional hurricanes, but also the maze of federal regulatory agencies:
NOAA is the agency responsible for implementing the regulations in the plan, which is currently under review by many federal agencies, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Office of Management and Budget. Recommendations are set to be published in the Federal Register for public comment in the coming months. Public comments will be addressed by the federal agencies and interested fish farmers may be allowed to start applying for permits by the end of this year. (Florida Sea Grant source.)