Home Conservation Front

Offshore Hatcheries and Fish Farming

mikenavmikenav Posts: 858 Officer
I've been bombarded with conversations about offshore fish farms and aquaculture projects, most likely in the Gulf. I've done a little reading, just trying to keep up, and have my own ideas, but I was curious what the seasoned anglers on this forum thought about the idea of fish farms offshore. Do they increase pollution? Are they worth it? Will they hurt recreational fishing if cobia, for example, become so inexpensive because they're farmed that no one bothers to target them in the wild? This is obviously dependent on the species, but does the threat of farmed fish escaping create worry?

Again, just curious...


Thanks!

Replies

  • HunterSThompsonHunterSThompson Posts: 60 Deckhand
    In my own opinion, while fish farming seems like a great idea in theory to relieve pressure on natural resources, the cons greatly outweigh the benefits. Just to keep it brief I will only list a few which I would consider major issues. Top of the list would be parasitic/disease outbreak in farmed populations which could in turn could infect wild populations if they happen to be exposed. This could cause catastrophic population reduction in wild species. Another massive issue is the genetic modification/lost natural genetic variation that occurs in fish farming. The fish are bred to be good candidates for a captivity situation which in turn ends up lessening the darwinistic "natural selection" of those populations, and multiplies inbreeding over generations which creates many of its own inherent problems. This ties into your threat of the fish escaping, when captive species breed with wild species, you are in a sense "dumbing down" and ruining the genetics of wild populations. Another issue to think about to add into account are the huge amount of resources used to run the fish farming operation, i.e. baitfish being harvested to feed the farmed fish, fossil fuels to power boats etc etc. All in all the best way to make sure that our precious natural resources are taken care of is to think small. In my opinion what really needs to be addressed is preserving our coral reefs and hard bottoms and implementing a coral permaculture program. when coral thrives, the rest of the ecosystem follows suit. The coral itself will reduce ocean acidification and improve water quality which is first an foremost in any aquatic environment. Also it is widely accepted that the oceans coral reefs provide approximately 50% of the worlds oxygen which is essential to all life.
  • Tom HiltonTom Hilton Posts: 1,585 Captain
    I find it extremely hard to believe that coral reefs provide 50% of the world's oxygen - thought that process was performed by the rainforests, but I may be wrong.
  • Doc StressorDoc Stressor Homosassa, FLPosts: 2,678 Captain
    The ocean's phytoplankton is thought to produce somewhere between 50-70% of the earth's oxygen. Most of this comes from the near surface water column. Coral reefs and other benthic zones only contribute a small fraction. Rainforests produce no more than 1/3 of the total oxygen generated.

    You can learn more about the proposed open water aquaculture projects here:

    http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/sustainable_fisheries/gulf_fisheries/aquaculture/

    To address some of the issues raised by HST:
    Top of the list would be parasitic/disease outbreak in farmed populations which could in turn could infect wild populations if they happen to be exposed. This could cause catastrophic population reduction in wild species.

    A lot has been learned about these problems from the salmon farming industry and the hope is to avoid repeating the same mistakes. What has been learned is that disease and parasite problems most frequently occur in shallow, poorly flushed areas. Transmission to wild populations can be avoided by locating the net pens in areas where there are few or no native species. Locating aquaculture facilities in deep water areas away from natural reef structures should reduce the likelihood of disease transmission.
    Another massive issue is the genetic modification/lost natural genetic variation that occurs in fish farming. The fish are bred to be good candidates for a captivity situation which in turn ends up lessening the darwinistic "natural selection" of those populations, and multiplies inbreeding over generations which creates many of its own inherent problems.

    The permitting process for the Gulf specifically prevents the development of captive brood stocks, genetically modified fish, or "domesticated" strains. All penned fish must originate from wild fish that are collected for one time breeding purposes. While penned fish can reproduce naturally (particularly cobia) and potentially reduce genetic diversity, the location of the pens in areas that do not support nature recruitment would greatly reduce potential effects. Only a tiny fraction of eggs produced in even the correct environments survive in any case.
    Another issue to think about to add into account are the huge amount of resources used to run the fish farming operation, i.e. baitfish being harvested to feed the farmed fish, fossil fuels to power boats etc etc.

    This issue is often brought up by folks who oppose fish aquaculture, but it does not make sense. Penned fish use far less energy since they do not migrate over long distances or need to chase down prey. So the conversion of biomass (like baitfish) to product is much more efficient for penned fish. I don't have specific information for redfish, snapper, or cobia, but there is good data for salmon. Penned salmon can have a conversion factor as high as 2. So 2 lb of feed can produce 1 lb of salmon. For wild salmon the factor is at least 10. Plus, there has been a lot of progress in the fish farming industry toward reducing the amount of baitfish protein in fish feed and replacing it with terrestrial protein sources. This not only decreases the impact on baitfish populations but also greatly reduces the mercury level in the farmed fish relative to wild caught fish.

    The current permitting program for Gulf aquaculture is really just an experiment. The permits will be limited to a small number of operations and all aspects of the environmental impact will be carefully monitored. There is a greater risk that the program will fail to produce fish in an economically feasible manner than have a negative impact on the environment.

    Ocean aquaculture is only in the development stage for now. But some day it may replace commercial fishing the way that terrestrial agriculture replaced market hunting.
  • BubbaIIBubbaII Posts: 328 Deckhand
    There is a greater risk that the program will fail to produce fish in an economically feasible manner than have a negative impact on the environment.

    Ocean aquaculture is only in the development stage for now. But some day it may replace commercial fishing the way that terrestrial agriculture replaced market hunting.

    I am not surprised that someone filed a lawsuit against this, but it seems almost unfeasible to try this in the Gulf anyway. Lawsuit seems frivolous to me, but as Tom noted in another thread, its a way of life these days with Gulf fisheries. Recs sue because of changes, comms sue because of changes. And nothing really changes from the lawsuit; win or lose.

    As Doc said, offshore aquaculture seems more likely to fail than to succeed. Hurricanes, red tides, etc., will make this very difficult to ensure that operations, costing millions of dollars to develop and operate, will be successful. Expensive learning curve for a failure.
  • Redstripe69Redstripe69 Posts: 7 Greenhorn
    Why cant bait fish be raised as well?? I would envision boats drifting with pens...Using the motors when needed. Low fuel consumption. I don't know why a forage species couldn't be raised offshore for food.
  • 2WayCenter2WayCenter Posts: 225 Officer
    I question whether it could be economically feasible. If the problems mentioned above can be addressed and the end result is lower pressure on natural fish stocks then why not? It does not seem reasonable to be against it without research and testing.

    The gulf is tied in a knot of regulations. Too many positioned to take advantage of the status quo. I agree with Bubba II, lawsuits by the established beneficiaries of the current system would be a large hurdle.
  • LurchyLurchy Posts: 418 Deckhand
    Earlier this year thousands of farmed cobia escaped from an offshore pen off the coast of Ecuador. Cobia may well be an invasive there that starts to compete with wild species. Bone headed..
  • surfmansurfman WC FLPosts: 5,982 Admiral
    Aren't they raising cobia in floating pens now off of Puerto Rico or someplace like that now? I thought I saw something not long ago about that?
    Tight Lines, Steve
    My posts are my opinion only.

    Be thankful we're not getting all the government we're paying for.  Will Rogers
  • Doc StressorDoc Stressor Homosassa, FLPosts: 2,678 Captain
    Cobia are already an important aquaculture species that is grown in ocean pens in other countries. Most farmed cobia are grown in SE Asia. Since the Asian seafood market is huge, they are not usually exported to the US. Based on information gained from Asian operations, net pen culture of cobia has started in several Central and South American countries such as Panama, Ecuador, and Belize.

    Cobia are native to tropical oceans around the world with the exception of the eastern Pacific. So the Ecuador escape has resulted in the introduction of a non-native species, which can have unpredictable effects on the natural ecosystem. Whether or not these fish can become established in the wild is not known. In general, farming non-native species in ocean pens is a bad idea and is one of the things that is covered in the Gulf of Mexico Pilot Program.

    The program has been challenged in court by GOM commercial fishing interests. While this was predictable, it is very short sited. Seafood is a global commodity, which is why most US seafood is now imported. If cobia farming turns out to be profitable and sustainable, it is going to develop in other countries no matter what happens in the US. It will just a matter of whether the farmed fish will be coming from US or foreign companies.

    IMO, the US commercial fishermen would be better served by cooperating with the Pilot Program in the GOM. They are the people best positioned to participate in the industry if it can be developed here. If they oppose aquaculture, the industry and the jobs that will be created will happen in other countries.
Sign In or Register to comment.