National Briefing | Environment: Fish Farming in Federal Waters

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, which regulates fishing in federal waters in the gulf, approved regulations that would for the first time allow aquaculture in federal waters of the United States. The move, contested by environmental groups, must be confirmed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees fisheries councils nationwide. Shellfish aquaculture is common in state waters, which typically extend to three miles offshore, and there are some small finfish operations there. But finfish aquaculture in federal waters has been delayed by, among other things, the slow progress in the Congress of regulatory legislation. Critics of finfish aquaculture say the farms can spread diseases and note that the demand for fish pellets used to feed farmed fish is sharply depleting wild stocks of fish like menhaden. Advocates say the farms could help reduce fish imports, which account for 80 percent or more of fish eaten in the United States.