Task force to develop national standards for ocean aquaculture

06/22/05

(Washington, D.C.) The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) announce the establishment of the Marine Aquaculture Task Force--comprising leaders from the worlds of science, industry, conservation and government--to recommend national aquaculture standards for the future development of our oceans. To address aquaculture's risks and benefits, the members of the Marine Aquaculture Task Force will be guided by the principle that marine aquaculture must be conducted in a way that does not harm fish and wildlife and the ecosystems on which they depend. The Task Force is made possible through the generous support of the Lenfest Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Aquaculture is the farming of fish and shellfish and accounts for one-third of seafood consumed in the world today. The industry is growing rapidly as wild fish stocks decline and consumer demand for seafood continues to rise. The U.S. Department of Commerce has called for a fivefold increase in domestic aquaculture production by 2025. Although most aquaculture in the United States is currently inland or near the shore, much of the growth in aquaculture is expected to come from fish and shellfish farms in ocean waters. To facilitate this growth, the Commerce Department recently sent legislation to Congress that would greatly expand aquaculture in federal waters extending from three to 200 miles offshore. Despite aquaculture's promise to supply seafood, generate jobs and reduce fishing pressure on wild species, there are significant environmental and socio-economic concerns associated with its development.

"This task force comes at the perfect time," said Rear Adm. (ret.) Richard F. Pittenger, chair of the task force. "Two major ocean commissions have recommended ecologically sustainable marine aquaculture and the Bush administration and Congress are in the early stages of contemplating how this should be done." Adm. Pittenger recently retired as vice president for marine operations of WHOI and is a former Oceanographer of the Navy.

"Opening up our oceans to aquaculture holds great promise and great risk. If we proceed carefully and thoughtfully, we can produce benefits to the nation," Adm. Pittenger added. "If we proceed recklessly, we could add to the injuries we have already inflicted on the oceans. I look forward to working with all interested parties to make sure that if the United States promotes aquaculture, we do it right."

Bill Dewey, public affairs manager for Washington State's Taylor Shellfish Company, one of the largest producers of farmed shellfish in the United States, is also a member of the panel. "We've been farming shellfish for five generations in Washington. Over those years we've learned a lot about what it takes to be sustainable. First and foremost is maintaining the health of the ecosystem in which we work. As we look toward the future of marine aquaculture in the United States, the bottom line is that we need to ensure that we produce a healthy product that is also good for the oceans," said Dewey.

"For the first time in human history, technology and economic incentives are aligned to bring large-scale agriculture into the oceans," said Chris Mann, executive director of the Marine Aquaculture Task Force. "Before plunging in, we should consider very carefully the effect it will have on marine ecosystems and the people and communities who depend on them. That's exactly what the Task Force intends to do."

The Marine Aquaculture Task Force will host and participate in a range of scientific and policy-making meetings; engage leaders from government, industry, science, and the environmental community; and publish a report recommending national standards for sustainable aquaculture. The task force will complete its work in 18 months, and its members include:

    Rear Adm. (ret.) Richard F. Pittenger, Chair
    Former Vice President for Marine Facilities and Operations
    Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
    Woods Hole, Massachusetts

    Bruce Anderson, Ph.D.
    President, Oceanic Institute
    Waimanalo, Hawaii

    Daniel Benetti, Ph.D.
    Director, Aquaculture Program
    University of Miami
    Miami, Florida

    Paul Dayton, Ph.D.
    Professor of Oceanography
    Scripps Institution of Oceanography
    La Jolla, California

    Bill Dewey
    Taylor Shellfish Co., Inc.
    Shelton, Washington
    Rebecca Goldburg, Ph.D.
    Senior Scientist, Environmental Defense
    New York, New York

    Alison Rieser
    Professor of Law
    University of Maine School of Law
    Portland, Maine

    Byron Sher
    Former State Senator
    Saratoga, California

    Arliss Sturgelewski
    Former State Senator
    Anchorage, Alaska

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 70 percent of the seafood Americans consume is imported, and at least 40 percent is farm raised. In 2002, the United States ranked 10th in worldwide aquaculture production, accounting for just over one percent of the global market. On June 7, 2005, the Bush administration submitted to Congress for consideration and action The National Offshore Aquaculture Act of 2005. The legislation would give the Secretary of Commerce authority to permit offshore aquaculture in federal ocean waters, also known as the United States Exclusive Economic Zone.

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