Omnivore - Offshore aquaculture: What does that mean?

The view from inside a Hawaii offshore aquaculture cage

(Photo by NOAA)

The same havoc wreaked by multinational corporations on the way we grow food on land is poised to spread to the seas. Many people realize the harm current agricultural practices have on our health, environment and food quality. Less well-known is the push from the U.S. government to legalize and open public waters to offshore aquaculture, a potentially harmful and financially risky solution to our seafood issues. In a recent report, "Fishy Farms: The Problems with Open Ocean Aquaculture," nonprofit consumer organization Food & Water Watch examines the government-supported program and its frustratingly widespread pitfalls.

Over the past 20 years, Americans' affinity for seafood has climbed. Touted by medical experts as full of health benefits, and with more varieties of fish available in supermarkets, American's seafood consumption has increased by 25 percent.

To satisfy consumer demands for all things fishy, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, is trying to maximize seafood production while finding a way to cut our $9.2 billion seafood trade deficit and relieve the heavy stress on our seriously depleted wild marine fish populations. As is his way, President Bush places his faith in human ingenuity and has been pouring money into risky and unproven technologies without re-examining our current processes.

One of the solutions proposed is open water aquaculture, a completely new practice of fish farming that involves growing huge numbers of fish in nets or cages far off the coast. The government has spent more than $25 million supporting four experimental open aquaculture fish farms and funding research into the technologies. Yet despite the funneling of millions of tax dollars and millions more of private investment into the industry, open water aquaculture has failed to show that it is an environmentally sustainable, financially viable, or technically possible practice on a commercial scale.

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