Managing aquaculture for sustainability

Posted by Christine, June 20, 2012

Boyce Thorne Miller, Science Coordinator for Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance, begins a three-part series on the impact of aquaculture on the oceans today:

ACT I:  Aquaculture in the News

Part 2 will cover aquaculture history;  and part 3 conclude with aquaculture choices.

The ecology, economics, and purpose of modern fish aquaculture have been debated by scientists and policymakers for years. Yet even with numerous pros and cons and a variety of issues surrounding the practices, the singular message that seems to stick in consumers’ heads is that aquaculture is good, because it will feed the world and save the wild fish. It’s an easy message to understand and people would greatly prefer that it not be complicated by facts. But those facts are essential for responsible consumers to consider, and their importance has been raised once again by several recent items in the news.

Read about Whole Foods and other news on the post. NOAA’s policy suggests troubling changes, Miller cites:

However, the NOAA aquaculture policy, issued last year, gives the US a statement of policy and guidance goals that could achieve the innovative and sharp change in aquaculture development that is needed. We need to make sure that potential is realized, for the aquaculture industry will resist it.  But that will require that the US not follow the examples set by other countries now leading aquaculture development. It will be harder for the EU, since they are already on a path committed to industrial monoculture fish farming. The NOAA Aquaculture Office webpage promotes an additional priority: “promoting a level playing field for U.S. aquaculture businesses engaged in international trade.”  That is very concerning. Leveling the playing field requires loosening important environmental restrictions and would make it difficult to achieve many of the admirable goals listed in the official policy document. The US should not be leveling the playing field with other aquaculture nations; it should playing an entirely different game and creating enviable models for truly sustainable aquaculture.

Here on California’s Central Coast, Morro Bay was recognized for its fishing industry. David Sneed wrote the story:

Morro Bay has received national recognition for its efforts to preserve its historic fishing industry. This photo, by Dave Middlecamp of the Tribune, shows Morro Rock in the background behind a local fisherman.

The city is one of four coastal governments to receive the 2012 Walter B. Jones Memorial Award for Excellence in Coastal and Ocean Management. The awards are given every two years by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to honor noteworthy contributions to protecting and improving coasts and coastal communities

Specifically, Morro Bay is recognized for its innovative work with commercial fishermen, The Nature Conservancy and other coastal communities to rebuild the town’s fishing industry in a more sustainable fashion after many of the West Coast’s fisheries collapsed a decade ago.

“In a time when fisheries quotas are being consolidated and landings funneled to larger ports, it is important to keep Morro Bay a viable working waterfront,” said Andrea Lueker, Morro Bay city manager.

Steps taken by the city and its partners to revitalize the fishing industry include diversifying gear types, experimenting with new gear designs to minimize environmental impacts and forming a Morro Bay Community Quota Fund to set and maintain groundfish quotas on the Central Coast. As a result of these efforts, the value of catches landed in Morro Bay has doubled.

One of the more controversial aspects of the effort was partnering with environmental group The Nature Conservancy, which bought all of Morro Bay’s trawl fishing fleet and permits. Many fishermen were reluctant to work with the group.

“This work has not been easy,” said Michael Bell, marine project director for The Nature Conservancy. “These leaders have faced huge obstacles in their effort to try a new model.”

The city was nominated for the award by Adrienne Harris, executive director of the Morro Bay National Estuary Program. No awards ceremony is planned as a cost-saving measure, Harris said.

Other governments to receive the national honor this year are the Port of Anacortes, Wash.; Naples, Fla.; and Plymouth, N.C.