Gathering Place
Conrad C. Lautenbacher

Aquaculture act will
create standards
for fish farming

The Star-Bulletin's aquaculture editorial ("Fish farming proposal lacks environmental controls," June 9) relies on misinformation to draw its conclusions.

The development of robust environmental standards for fish farming is a key part of the Offshore Aquaculture Act. Upon passage, there will be an extensive public process to develop the best standards and regulations.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has more than 30 years of experience in aquaculture research and development and understands potential problems that can occur if seafood farming is done incorrectly. We will establish requirements for aquaculture using best practices so that we can confidently safeguard and even enhance our wild stocks and the environment. Through technological advancements, we have already overcome the past problems noted in the Star-Bulletin's editorial.

For example, modern cage technology has reduced the potential for escapes. Locating seafood farms offshore will reduce or eliminate effluent concerns, as winds and currents have a dilution effect, and there will be fewer user conflicts than near-shore areas. We will only approve permits for areas that are appropriate for seafood farms.

Further, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not allow the use of harmful chemicals and drugs in our food production, and aquaculture is no exception. Federal nutritionists advise Americans to eat at least two servings of seafood per week as part of a heart-healthy diet. Trace levels of toxins are found in almost everything we eat and the toxin levels found in the study cited by the Star-Bulletin were below government concern levels. In addition, the aquaculture industry is developing the capability to strip traces of toxins out of the feed and, unlike with wild fish, farmers can easily control what farm-raised fish eat.

Finally, aquaculture is a very efficient converter of protein to final product, nearing one pound of feed to one pound of fish for some species. Farm-raised fish do not expend as much energy, and therefore do not require as much food as wild fish. The industry has incentive to reduce feed costs and is developing alternative options such as soy-based feed.

Seafood is a way of life in Hawaii. Since the late 1960s, aquaculture also has been an important part of the state's culture and economy. From the early days when the local favorite "Hawaiian" prawn (then known as the Malaysian prawn) was introduced to recent times when the popular moi was farmed for the masses, aquaculture has pumped millions of dollars into the state economy. Hawaiians are also keenly aware of the importance of a clean, sustainable environment, and the Offshore Aquaculture Act is the perfect remedy to ensure that this fledgling industry is nourished, but in an environmentally responsible manner.

The United States has made great strides in recent years to rebuild America's wild fisheries. Aquaculture is another option, not meant to compete with wild harvests, but to complement them. Even when our wild stocks are completely rebuilt, they will not produce enough to meet the projected demand for seafood based on population growth by 2025. We have a choice: continue to import most of our seafood, or grow some of it ourselves and generate more jobs and revenues for our coastal communities.

Conrad C. Lautenbacher is the administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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