After many years of deliberation, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council moved another step closer to authorizing offshore aquaculture operations in the Gulf of Mexico when it approved its final draft of the “Proposed Rule for the Fishery Management Plan for Regulating Offshore Marine Aquaculture in the Gulf of Mexico”.
The Southern Shrimp Alliance has submitted extensive written and oral comments to the Council over the past several years that have raised a wide range of concerns regarding the potential impacts of this activity on traditional shrimp fishing operations, the Gulf ecosystem and the shrimp market. Comments-on-Final-Offshore-Aquaculture-FMP-+-PEIS-7-24-09.pdf, Comments-on-Gulf-Aquaculture-Amendment-7-26-07.pdf, Comments-on-Gulf-Aquaculture-Amendment-September-revision-10-26-07.pdf, Comments-on-Gulf-Aquaculture-Amendment-Scoping-1-17-08final.pdf. SSA has also worked closely with Council members and staff to secure revisions to the Fishery Management Plan and draft proposed regulations to reflect these concerns.
Among the revisions included in the Proposed Rule adopted by the Council today in response to SSA’s input were removing all shrimp species from the list of allowable species that can be raised in offshore aquaculture facilities, and provisions designed to prevent such facilities from being located in areas which would conflict with traditional shrimp fishing operations. This includes a specific mandate for NMFS to utilize the extensive shrimp fishing data collected through the Electronic Logbook (ELB) program in order to protect shrimp fishing grounds. The ELB program has been funded largely as a result of SSA’s work with Congress and NMFS. It generates precise shrimp effort data used in many critical fishery science and management applications affecting the shrimp fishery including shrimp stock assessments as well as reducing red snapper and sea turtle bycatch.
In a related action, Congressman Ed Markey (D-MA), the Ranking Member of the Natural Resources Committee of the US House of Representatives sent a letter to Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank also raising concerns about offshore aquaculture development. Congress. MARKEY-LTR_EJM_offshoreaquaculture2-2-5-13.pdfey letter]
Echoing the sentiments expressed by SSA over the years, Congressman Markey stated; “In evaluating offshore aquaculture, we must ensure that consideration of any federal regulatory scheme takes into account the impact of those operations on wild fish stocks and the fishermen that depend on them for their livelihoods.”, and expressed serious concerns about the “dangerous precedent” the Gulf Council’s action might have for fisheries nationwide. Also like SSA, Congressman Markey challenged the validity of the statutory authority cited by the Council and NMFS for taking this action in the Gulf. Congressman Markey requested the Acting Secretary’s serious evaluation of the Gulf’s plan in order “to ensure that offshore aquaculture is appropriately conducted within a national framework of laws and policies that protect the marine environment and create opportunity for, rather opposition from, our hardworking fishermen”.