September 5, 2018


Alaska in quandary over federal plan to boost deep-sea fish farming



Alaskans have expressed concern over a federal plan to increase aquaculture production by boosting open-ocean fish farms.


According to a news report published by, the Alaskans made known their reservations over the plan to acting Undersecretary Tim Gallaudet of the Department of Commerce on Aug. 31 during a listening session at the end of a weeklong gathering of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) experts in Juneau.


Gallaudet said the strategic plan was an "initiative to grow the American blue economy," referring to the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs, and ocean ecosystem health.


He also said that the commerce department aimed to "reduce the seafood trade deficit".


The report also mentioned President Donald Trump's trade war with China as having resulted in Chinese tariffs on Alaska seafood exported to that country, and American tariffs on processed Alaska seafood products imported from China.


"A strong U.S. marine aquaculture industry will serve a key role in US food security and improve our trade balance with other nations", the plan states.


Ban on fish farms


Alaska's concern over the federal plan stems from the fact that Alaska bans fish farms. Its jurisdiction extends only to waters three miles offshore. Beyond that is considered federal waters, and the state ban does not apply.


Aquaculture in Alaska is almost limited to the production of shellfish and aquatic plants. These include Pacific oysters, blue mussels, littleneck clams, scallops and bull kelp. However, non-profit mariculture continues to provide a steady supply of aquaculture in the state. 


"We are very concerned about the aquaculture activities," Frances Leach, director of the United Fishermen of Alaska, was quoted as saying in the report.


She suggested that any National Marine Fisheries Service guidelines allow an opt-out clause applicable to Alaska.


But Chris Oliver, assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries and former director of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, said concerns about aquaculture were misplaced.


"In terms of finfish, I think we're talking about very contained operations, as opposed to hatchery operations", he said.

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