Comment: Aquaculture won’t replace fishing but can boost US seafood economy | comment

Comment: Aquaculture won’t replace fishing but can boost US seafood economy |  comment

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a report last month that confirms what any fisherman can tell you: The ocean is warmer than ever before. The single most interesting thing, at least in hunting circles, is the debate over what to do about it. While many regional fishery management councils are taking steps to adapt and protect fish stocks and our livelihoods, it is time for more action. It is time to lay the foundation for a sustainable, science-based marine aquaculture industry in our country to complement wild fish catches.

Aquaculture will never replace fishing. If that were possible, we would not support it. We have been involved in various aspects of the fishing industry for years, and we know that fishing is a way of life. We also believe that a sustainable aquaculture industry that works with, not against, American fishermen can help keep it that way for generations to come.

Currently, warming waters are shrinking or shifting fish stocks in every region of the country. Black sea bass move from the mid-Atlantic to New England while crayfish move north into Canadian waters. Humboldt squid moved from California to Alaska. Last summer, large quantities of dead fish washed up on Texas beaches as the Gulf waters boiled.

Regional fishing boards are working hard to adapt, canceling two consecutive snow crab seasons in Alaska after the stock’s shocking collapse, and curtailing the season for the larger, overfished amberjack in the Gulf. Adding to the challenge is that American fishermen compete with imported seafood that is not always held to the same sustainability standards. With 90% of the seafood we eat in the United States imported, our fishermen are under severe economic pressure.

We believe that sustainable aquaculture can help alleviate this pressure, create jobs up and down the seafood supply chain, and strengthen the position of all American seafood in the marketplace.

Many of these jobs may help fishermen supplement their income during the off-season. When Lowcountry Oyster Co. started… In 2017, the single operation farmed 1 million oysters. Last year, it planted 10 million with the help of 20 employees, many of whom are also wild oyster pickers. Water knowledge and experience are likely to be valuable skills in any seafood industry.

Marine aquaculture in the United States is not a question of if, but where and how. The nation has the opportunity to lead the development of this new industry in a sustainable way that benefits all Americans. It starts with passage of the federal Science-Based Fair Aquaculture Act (SEAfood).

The Marine Food Act would build stakeholder-led approaches that ensure aquaculture decisions are made with coastal community input. It puts science and social research first, so aquaculture is part of a healthy ocean strategy, reducing fish escapes, overfeeding, pollution and other disturbances to wild fisheries.

It also builds on the country’s history as a pioneer in fisheries management. When our wild fisheries collapsed due to overfishing (including catches of foreign fleets in U.S. waters), the bipartisan Magnuson-Stevens Act set new standards for science-based policies and protections for domestic fishermen, helping secure American fishing for generations. Passage of the Seafood Act would recommit us to sustainable seafood production while ensuring that more U.S.-farmed fish are produced domestically.

Of course, aquaculture will not work everywhere. That’s why we need research, data, and pilot projects on water, so we can find the right places for aquaculture to deliver the greatest benefits for the most Americans with the least risks. Fortunately, we are not starting from scratch. There are lessons to be learned already from growing kelp, fish and shellfish near shore. However, marine aquaculture has more unknowns, and the Marine Foods Act will help us address them.

There is no substitute for wild fishing. Not as a food source, not as a lifestyle. But warming waters from the Gulf of Mexico to the Gulf of Maine threaten our livelihoods. It’s also putting pressure on our seafood supply, even as demand for healthy, delicious, low-carb protein grows. Since we cannot extract more from our local wild fisheries, rather than continuing to increase imports, we should look to growing more of them here instead. Marine aquaculture is coming to the United States. The Seafood Act will help ensure it is smart and sustainable – and that fishermen have a hand in driving when that happens.

Captain. Scott Hickman He has 35 years of experience as a charter boat captain and commercial fisherman and is based in Texas. He has served on advisory committees for the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council and Texas Sea Grant. Trey McMillan He is the founder and owner of Lowcountry Oyster Co. and Vice President of the SC Shellfish Growers Association.

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