NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 26, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- Yesterday, an unusual coalition of fishing and public interest groups, represented by the Center for Food Safety, won a lawsuit challenging the Department of Commerce's rules that would have permitted, for the first time, industrial finfish farms offshore in U.S. waters.
"This is a landmark victory for protecting our oceans, for fishing communities and conservationists," said George Kimbrell, CFS Legal Director and lead counsel in the case. "Allowing industrial net-pen aquaculture and its known environmental harms in the Gulf of Mexico was a grave threat. Very simply, as the Court properly held, aquaculture is not 'fishing.' Such harm cannot be allowed under existing fisheries law never intended for that purpose."
The rules challenged in the lawsuit focused on the Gulf of Mexico, but also could have paved the way for fish farm permits all around the U.S. The Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana ruled that existing fisheries management laws were never intended to regulate aquaculture (the farming of fish in pens or cages), concluding that the Department of Commerce "acted outside of its statutory authority…"
Marianne Cufone, local counsel and Executive Director of the Recirculating Farms Coalition (RFC) said, "This ruling makes clear that existing fisheries law cannot be manipulated to develop and expand marine finfish farming in the Gulf or other U.S. waters. Now we can focus on stopping Congress from passing new laws to promote this outdated and unnecessary industry."
Since the 1980's, Congress has periodically attempted to pass laws promoting marine finfish farms, but all failed due to massive public opposition. Federal agencies then tried to permit fish farms under existing fisheries management laws. The lawsuit stopped that, so Congress is back on it. Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi recently introduced the Advancing the Quality and Understanding of American Aquaculture (AQUAA) Act and a similar bill is expected in the House of Representatives soon. RFC and others plan to again turn their attention to Capitol Hill.
Globally, industrial aquaculture has been associated with many serious environmental and health concerns: farmed fish escapes into the wild; competition between wild and farmed fish for habitat, food and mates, or their intermixing causing changes in genetics and behaviors; spread of diseases or parasites from farmed fish to wild fish and other marine life; and pollution from excess feed, wastes and chemicals flowing through the open pens into natural waters.
"We applaud today's ruling! We must protect our ocean resources from the many threats posed by offshore aquaculture," said Cynthia Sarthou, Executive Director of the Gulf Restoration Network, another plaintiff in the case.
Industrial aquaculture can also come with significant socioeconomic costs - creating market competition that drives down the price of wild fish and devaluing of quota shares, resulting in the loss of fishing and fishing-related employment and income. Less money for fishing men and women means less money spent in coastal communities too, hurting other businesses.
"All of us who depend on the Gulf are profoundly grateful that the Court has struck down these dangerous regulations that would have polluted our waters and damaged our way of life," said Gulf Fishermen's Association attorney William Ward. "Today is a great day."
Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of plaintiff organization Food & Water Watch, said, "Today's decision reaffirms that Congress never intended for the federal government to allow massive factory fish farms in federal waters. The Court recognized that this irresponsible plan was an overreach by the federal government that would give away our public resources to another polluting industry."
The plaintiff groups on the lawsuit make up a broad array of interests, including commercial, economic, recreational, farming and conservation purposes: Gulf Fishermen's Association; Gulf Restoration Network; Charter Fishermen's Association; Destin Charter Boat Association; Alabama Charter Fishing Association; Fish for America, USA, Inc.; Florida Wildlife Federation; Recirculating Farms Coalition; and Food & Water Watch.
SOURCE Recirculating Farms Coalition