August 12, 2022


Petition calls upon Maine, US to firmly enforce animal cruelty laws at aquaculture sites


A petition filed by animal welfare groups seeks to require state officials in Maine, the United States, to more aggressively enforce animal cruelty laws at aquaculture facilities, saying that a "troubling vacuum in oversight exists" at the state level.


"Despite overwhelming scientific evidence that fish are sentient, conscious, capable of pain, suffering and logical thought," the state does not provide proper oversight of how fish are raised and treated in aquaculture facilities, according to a 32-page petition filed on August 1 by the groups, only two of which are Maine-based.


The lead organisation behind the petition is Animal Outlook, a Washington-DC based group formerly known as Compassion Over Killing. In an interview, Animal Outlook executive director Cheryl Leahy said the petition calls on the Animal Welfare Program at the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry to put in place "basic guardrails" to regulate how fish are treated.


"I hope they understand the scope and nature of the problem of mistreatment of animals and the lack of transparency and accountability that exists," she said.


Agriculture department spokesman Jim Britt said via email that the department has received the petition and is reviewing it, but that he could not comment further at this time.


Adding new rules now is particularly important because aquaculture operations are on the verge of a rapid expansion, with four industrial-scale farms looking to locate here, Leahy said.


One of the groups opposed to a land-based salmon farm in Belfast, Friends of Harriet L. Hartley Conservation Area, signed the petition as did the Maine Seaweed Exchange, a nonprofit working to develop a seaweed aquaculture industry in the state.


"In Maine and across the globe, aquaculture is a booming industry, meaning that more and more aquatic animals are subjected to life in industrial aquaculture facilities," the petition reads.


Although animal cruelty investigations fall to the agriculture department, oversight and approval of aquaculture facilities is the responsibility of the Department of Marine Resources and Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.


The largest currently operating aquaculture company in Maine is Cooke Aquaculture of Canada, which grows thousands of salmon in net pen cages off the coast of Maine.


The petitioners are using a process in which 150 Maine registered voters can ask a state agency to write new rules to address a particular concern. In this instance, the "citizen petition for rulemaking" calls on the state to designate the Animal Welfare Program as the agency responsible for investigating reports of animal cruelty at aquaculture facilities and require it to write rules to establish best management practices.

- Spectrum News

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