Pew Cautions Against Unregulated Fish Farms in U.S. Federal Waters

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Pew Cautions Against Unregulated Fish Farms in U.S. Federal Waters

During this year's Global Week of Action, a week devoted to farmed salmon awareness, the Pew Environment Group today raised concern about the creation of fish farms in U.S. waters without adequate uniform national aquaculture standards in place.

In the past two months, tens of thousands of farmed salmon have escaped from open-net fish farms in British Columbia, Norway and Scotland. This poses serious threats to wild salmon populations and coastal marine ecosystems. While monetary losses amount to millions of dollars, the ecological damage caused by these fish is immeasurable. Escaped fish spread disease to wild fish and compete and interbreed with wild salmon populations.

This September, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) allowed a plan to move forward that will establish fish farms in the Gulf of Mexico. Without necessary safeguards in place, U.S. waters could suffer the same environmental problems affecting other fish farming regions across the globe. NOAA has not yet mandated a set of uniform, national standards to regulate open ocean aquaculture in federal waters.

“The recent escapes of tens of thousands of farmed salmon from the pens in several primary producing countries serve a grim reminder that the environmental impacts of salmon farming remain to be addressed,” said Gerald Leape, senior officer at the Pew Environment Group. “These massive escapes also reinforce the point that any open ocean aquaculture legislation approved by Congress must have strong mandatory standards that prevent environmental impacts by farms that are built in U.S. waters.”

At a farmed salmon awareness event held today in Washington, D.C., Pew hosted a roundtable discussion and premiered a new documentary, “Farmed Salmon Exposed: The Global Reach of the Norwegian Salmon Farming Industry,” by Canadian filmmaker Damien Gillis.  The film visually portrays the damage caused by open-net salmon farms to marine ecosystems worldwide. It features firsthand accounts of the environmental, socio-economic and cultural problems linked to global salmon farms. Norwegian-based firms dominate world production of farmed salmon.

“As someone with a personal and business interest in sustainable seafood, it's critical that we apply an eco-friendly ethic when establishing fish farms in our federal waters,” said Barton Seaver, chef/Blue Ocean Institute Fellow. “We have an opportunity to support people and businesses as they make great progress towards creating aquaculture technology that is both sustainable and profitable. However, if we don't take a precautionary, conservation-minded approach to aquaculture, we run the risk of shooting ourselves in the foot.” 

For the past three years, the Pure Salmon Campaign, a global project with partners in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia and Chile, has organized one week each fall to expose the problems with the farmed salmon industry. This year, the Global Week of Action runs from November 9 - 13, 2009. As a coalition member, the Pew Environment Group joins other organizations in calling on industry leaders to adopt more sustainable, environmentally-friendly practices. 

“Norwegian multinationals are exporting environmental pollution, spreading sea lice and infectious diseases and allowing mass escapes in Canada, Chile, Scotland, Ireland and in Norway,” said Don Staniford, global coordinator of the Pure Salmon Campaign. “We urgently need to close the net on the worst problems of the salmon farming sector. That requires the adoption of the best available closed containment technology and the relocation of salmon farms away from migratory corridors for wild fish."

Pew is no longer active in this line of work, but for more information, visit the Salmon Aquaculture Reform campaign.

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