Good news / bad news, take two

by John Hocevar

October 18, 2006

First, the good news: NOAA Fisheries has announced that they are scrapping efforts to promote the disastrous Open Ocean Aquaculture bill.  NOAA’s Bill Hogarth says they’ll come back next year with a revised proposal that will have more environmental safeguards.

Advocates pushing to open up U.S. waters between 3 and 200 miles offshore to fish farms have argued that this will take pressure off dwindling wild fish stocks.  Unfortunately, large scale open ocean farms are likely to do more harm than good.  These farms tend to use carnivorous fish, which still rely on wild fish for food.  In addition to the obvious problem with catching wild fish to feed farmed fish, there are also concerns about disease and parasites associated with dense concentrations of farmed fish – and about the steps taken to minimize these risks, such as use of genetically modified fish or antibiotics.

So it’s definitely good news to hear that the next version of the bill will be more environmentally friendly, but it’s pretty likely that the new bill won’t fix the problems with open ocean aquaculture either.

On to the bad news:  after catching three billion pounds of Alaska pollock per year, the stock size is starting to decline.  The North Pacific Fishery Management Council announced a preliminary decision to reduce the Bering Sea pollock quota by over 4%, and rumors are flying that the reduction could ultimately be much larger.  Projections for 2008 are worse still. 

If there is a silver lining to this cloud, it comes in the hope that this will serve as a wake up call to fishery managers.  It’s time to take a more precautionary, ecosystem-based approach to fishery management.  We need to leave enough fish in the ocean to feed the rest of the marine mammals, sea birds, and fish that depend on them for food – not to mention the fishing dependent communities that are already struggling from the impacts of "localized depletion." 

For the oceans –

John H

John Hocevar

By John Hocevar

An accomplished campaigner, explorer, and marine biologist, John has helped win several major victories for marine conservation since becoming the director of Greenpeace's oceans campaign in 2004.

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