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seafan Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Dec-10-07 10:18 AM
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Gulf of Mexico to teem with fish in cages if farms okayed
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Gulf to teem with fish in cages if farms okayed

Technicians from Snapperfarm, started by an Eckerd College dropout, stand on top of a cage 2 miles off Puerto Rico. They harvest cobia, which grow to a marketable 10 pounds in about a year and tolerate tight spaces. One cage holds up to 70,000 pounds.

December 10, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG - Imports satisfy 80 percent of America's seafood craving. Shrimp, salmon, tilapia and other favorites journey thousands of miles to reach our plates but still undercut local prices because they are grown on high-intensity fish farms.

The federal government now wants to fight fire with fire, using the Gulf of Mexico as a vast, offshore fish farming laboratory.
Regulations under consideration next month would allow underwater cages the size of an average McDonald's restaurant, spread in clusters over dozens of acres. With each cage holding 70,000 to 100,000 pounds of fish, just two 40-cage farms in deep water could produce as much fresh seafood as Florida's grouper fleet hauls ashore in a year.


Several environmental groups are leery.

Nearshore farming dramatically dropped global salmon prices but also polluted surrounding waters. Penned-in fish sometimes needed antibiotics and antiparasite medicine to survive. Non-native species, like the "Atlantic salmon" raised in Chile and British Columbia, sometimes escaped into the wild.
The proposed offshore rules "contain no specific pollution standards. We don't know what kind of effluent is going to be acceptable," said Maryanne Cufone, of Food and Water Watch. "We don't know what likely chemicals will be needed to keep the fish healthy and keep the cages free of fouling organisms. This is a new industry the federal government is trying to promote, but there is no reason to rush."


These issues will be debated tonight in St. Petersburg at a special public hearing. After similar hearings in three other states, the management council is expected to vote on the regulations in January.


The proposed rules would forbid non-native species and require that one-fourth of the brood stock change every year, so the gulf doesn't fill up with one, genetically vulnerable strain. But the rules do not specify where the farms would locate, raising the possibility that acres and acres of gulf bottom would be leased out and therefore be off-limits to competing fishermen.

If the Alaska salmon fishery is any example, plummeting prices might devastate Florida's already teetering commercial fishing fleet.
"If it's coming, it's coming. Our guys are not going to be able to stop it," said Bobby Spaeth, a Madeira Beach fish house owner who lobbies for commercial fishermen. "ConAgra or somebody like that is going to come in and make a big business of it.

"Maybe some of the guys will be able to get jobs tending the traps and pens."

Hope a lot of citizens can attend the meeting tonight in St. Pete to make their voices heard.

What: Public hearing to discuss offshore marine fish farming

When: 6 to 9 p.m.

Where: Comfort Inn, 2260 54th Ave. N, St. Petersburg

Who: Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council
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