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SCIENCE
 

Aquaculture is government's solution to overfishing and feeding the planet

TOP: Conservation International's Luka Mossman, who restores and researches Native Hawaiian fishponds, walks near Heeia fishpond in Kaneohe, Hawaii. As a Native Hawaiian, he grew up around this type of fishpond. Photo: AP Photo/Caleb Jones. BELOW: Open-Ocean Aquaculture can have a number of adverse impacts on the environment.
TOP: Conservation International's Luka Mossman, who restores and researches Native Hawaiian fishponds, walks near Heeia fishpond in Kaneohe, Hawaii. As a Native Hawaiian, he grew up around this type of fishpond. Photo: AP Photo/Caleb Jones. BELOW: Open-Ocean Aquaculture can have a number of adverse impacts on the environment. Image reproduced with permission from the Ocean Conservancy.

HONOLULU, Hawaii — Traditional commercial fishing is threatening fish populations worldwide. As a result, U.S. officials are working on a plan to expand fish farming into federal waters around the Pacific Ocean.

The government sees the move toward fish farms, known as aquaculture, as a promising solution to overfishing and feeding a hungry planet. But some environmentalists say the industrial-scale farms could do more harm than good to overall ocean health.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is creating a plan to manage commercial fish farms in the federal waters located 3 to 200 miles offshore around Hawaii and other Pacific islands.

Similar Program Already Implemented In Gulf Of Mexico

The program is similar to one recently implemented by NOAA in the Gulf of Mexico. The farms in the Gulf and the Pacific would be the only aquaculture operations in U.S. federal waters. There are smaller operations in waters closer to shore. Those programs are run by states, not the federal government. 

Fish farming has been practiced for centuries in Hawaii and around the world. But some environmentalists say modern aquaculture carries pollution risks. There is also the potential for non-native farmed fish to escape and enter the natural ecosystem.

Most shellfish consumed in America comes from farms that have methods considered to be sustainable. However, farms growing fish that eat other animals, such as salmon, have raised concerns about sustainability. Many of these farms use wild-caught fish to feed the farm fish species.

There are three ways to farm fish: fully contained land-based systems that pump water in and out with little, if any, environmental impact; near-shore operations incorporating natural and man-made elements; and off-shore farms.

Is Open-Ocean Aquaculture Environmentally Sustainable?

Sylvia Earle is a former NOAA chief scientist and founder of the ocean advocacy group Mission Blue. Earle said there are more environmentally sustainable and economically viable options than open-ocean aquaculture. This uses huge floating net-pens or submerged cages. "We have to make a choice with aquaculture," she said. "Is our goal to feed a large number of people? Or is our goal to create or to serve a luxury market?" 

Last year, NOAA and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography put a dollar value of $17 billion a year on the ocean off the west coasts of North and South America. That includes $4.3 billion from commercial and sport fishing and $12.9 billion for the capture of carbon. Carbon capture is the process of capturing waste carbon dioxide and placing it somewhere that it will not enter the atmosphere.

Earle said the ocean is worth more and that no dollar figure can be attached to keeping the ocean, and in turn humans, healthy. "We now have recognition of other values of the ocean beyond what we can extract either for food or for products," she said.

U.S. Crews Are Sent Overseas To Farm

New technologies are being developed for open-ocean aquaculture, and many U.S. companies are sending their crews overseas to farm, according to NOAA officials.

"The U.S.'s view is we'd rather have these U.S. companies pursuing these opportunities in a sustainable, environmentally sound way in the U.S.," said Michael Tosatto. He is NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service regional administrator.

The NOAA plan would create a regulatory and permitting scheme for the industry. "It's reasonably common knowledge that the environmental laws are less where aquaculture occurs the most, (that) being China and other Southeast Asia countries," Tosatto said.

Many foreign operations have U.S. companies supplying the initial fish stock, then the fish are grown and sold back to the U.S. as imported seafood. U.S.-farmed fish in 2014 was valued at $1.3 billion, Tosatto said. This constitutes 19 percent of the nation's seafood production. But, that amounts to only 1 percent of the global farmed product.

NOAA Attempts To Move Forward

NOAA has been trying to establish an aquaculture industry in federal waters for many years, but attempts to get legislation to implement open-sea aquaculture have failed.

"And so (NOAA) moved into the fishery management process ... as a means to move forward with ocean aquaculture under the radar of the public," said Marianne Cufone, executive director of the Recirculating Farms Coalition. NOAA received input from thousands of people during a public comment period last year on its plans.

Cufone's New Orleans-based organization has been developing land-based aquaculture systems that are fully contained. Cufone says these types of farms are more sustainable than ocean aquaculture, and Earle agrees.

"Controlled systems are the most promising," Earle said. "I personally am wary of the open-ocean approach to aquaculture."

Native Hawaiians Practice Sustainable Aquaculture

Meanwhile, NOAA says researchers off Hawaii's Big Island are studying ways to make open-ocean farming safe and efficient. They are studying different methods and fish species to better understand problems the industry could face.

Native Hawaiians have long practiced sustainable aquaculture. They build walls around shoreline areas, which allow fresh water from the mountains and salt water from the ocean to flow in and out. Fish enter through slotted gates and can't get back out. The ponds are monitored to make sure they are healthy.

"Our ancestors, they could ... sustainably feed themselves, no problem," said Luka Mossman, a Native Hawaiian who grew up working on a traditional fishpond. He is now helping study and restore such ponds with the nonprofit environmental group Conservation International.

"You constantly watch how the natural system works, and you adapt to that," Mossman said. "You don't try and adapt the natural system to work for you."

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1
Anchor 1: What the Text Says

According to the article, there are options available besides open-ocean aquaculture. Which sentence from the article BEST supports the idea outlined above?

A

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is creating a plan to manage commercial fish farms in the federal waters located 3 to 200 miles offshore around Hawaii and other Pacific islands.

B

NOAA has been trying to establish an aquaculture industry in federal waters for many years, but attempts to get legislation to implement open-sea aquaculture have failed.

C

Cufone's New Orleans-based organization has been developing land-based aquaculture systems that are fully contained.

D

Meanwhile, NOAA says researchers off Hawaii's Big Island are studying ways to make open-ocean farming safe and efficient.

2
Anchor 1: What the Text Says

Which section highlights the idea that efforts to implement aquaculture in federal waters have NOT been successful?

A

"Is Open-Ocean Aquaculture Environmentally Sustainable?"

B

"U.S. Crews Are Sent Overseas To Farm"

C

"NOAA Attempts To Move Forward"

D

"Native Hawaiians Practice Sustainable Aquaculture"

3
Anchor 6: Point of View/Purpose

According to the article, which of the following people have perspectives in AGREEMENT with one another?

A

Luka Mossman and Michael Tosatto

B

Marianne Cufone and Luka Mossman

C

Marianne Cufone and Michael Tosatto

D

Sylvia Earle and Michael Tosatto

4
Anchor 6: Point of View/Purpose

How do the viewpoints of the NOAA compare with the viewpoints of Mission Blue?

A

Mission Blue and the NOAA both recognize the minimal environmental impact of off-shore farms.

B

The NOAA supports ocean aquaculture, but Mission Blue supports alternatives.

C

Mission Blue is concerned with efficiency, but the NOAA is concerned with safety.

D

The NOAA and Mission Blue agree that land-based aquaculture is the best solution.

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