Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The Eastpointer

Fish Cages Off-shore

By Richard E. Noble

A number of years past we were introduced to aquaculture here in Franklin County. An introductory experiment was conducted here in our sleepy little fishing village and a good deal of controversy resulted.
The experiment was rejected by the County and “leasing” or the privatization of Apalachicola Bay was prohibited by a 3 to 2 vote of the County Commission at that time.
I really don’t know what has happened since that time around the state of Florida but recently it was announced at a County Commission meeting that the State of Florida was about to approve another experiment in aquaculture in the Gulf - off-shore aquaculture fish raising cages.
I was covering the County Commission at the time of this announcement and I expected to hear a large outcry. But instead there was virtual silence on the matter from the entire fishing community - local environmentalist and fishermen alike.
This silence prompted me to do a little research and the following is a brief exposure to some of the present controversial issues involved in this matter.
Aquaculture is growing all over the world. Its advocates are claiming it as one solution in feeding the poor of the planet. At its current rate of growth it has been reported that it will only be a matter of time before more fish and other editable seafood products are farmed than are caught at sea. The prestigious NOAA organization is predicting $5 billion in aquaculture production, 600,000 jobs and $2.5 billion in goods and services by the year 2025.
But all of this good news is not without an adequate supply of bad news.
Although aquaculture is being established rapidly in third world countries and touted as a cure for poverty, in reality it seems to be producing just the opposite.
Struggling poor coastal fishermen are being put out of their traditional work and replaced by armed guards who are hired to protect the shrimp farms at poverty wages. The farm owners are usually from “big business” who are basically exploiting the poor coastal regions with no concern for the natives or their poverty or prosperity.
For the most part shrimp are being grown in these regions for sale to wealthier nations. The native people growing the shrimp can’t afford to buy them and the small fish that they once caught for their home markets and local consumption are being monopolized by the Big Farmer Corporations as shrimp food. So now the poor indigenous people are out of work, both traditional and otherwise, and their food has been confiscated as feed for the farms. Once again it seems the rich get richer while the poor get even poorer.
But for those who are willing to accept poverty as an inevitable consequence of prosperity, wealth and growth, there are other negatives to consider. One big negative is the consequence to the natural environment.
The negative environmental impacts from coastal shrimp farming and off-shore intensive fish farming are causing many consumer and environmental groups to ask their supporters not to buy ANY farm raised fish or shrimp.
One of the big problems with the fish farms and cages is the negative impacts on the wild fish population. You may have read about the Alaskan Salmon problem - farm raised fish escape from their cages and bring new diseases to the wild populations which the wild fish are not able to overcome. This same problem applies to the farm raised shrimp also.
There is also a problem with quick growth chemicals and anti-biotics used in the intensive farming which add to the other perils already facing the human consumers.
Congested fish raised in cages are polluting the ocean bottom. Fish excretion is high in ammonia, nitrite and nitrate. Overfeeding of the congested fish population fouls the water and pollutes the bottom. Huge areas in Europe where these intensive fish cages are used have miles and miles of sea bottom that is completely dead. The farm shrimp may contain dissolved cobalt and lead - “heavy metal bioaccumulation and lead poisoning in humans is not an exaggeration.”
If you start perusing articles on the Internet concerned with the perils of commercialized seafood farming (capitalist privatization of the oceans) you will come upon other familiar terms such as nitrogen enrichment, algal blooms, red tide, genetic pollution of indigenous stocks, decreased oxygen levels, poor water quality, fish diseases, mangrove forest devastation - epizootic ulcerative syndrome and vibriosis with symptoms such as boils, tail rot etc.
If you have any connection with the seafood industry or you are concerned about world hunger and world poverty, the health of the oceans, bays and the food supply in general, you may want to take a look at some of this.
Actually these off-shore fish cages may even be a concern to some of you sport fisherman. I doubt that you will get your prop tied up in one of them but you may find down the road that your Grouper holes are drying up and the few wild fish that you are catching are starting to look and taste rather peculiar.
This is, of course, pure speculation and a little trust and faith in your fellow man and the free market system may take care of everything. I mean, who knows? It is all a matter of perspective - is the ocean half polluted or half healthy?

Richard E. Noble has been a resident of Eastpoint for around thirty years now. He has authored two books: “A Summer with Charlie” which is currently listed on Amazon.com and “Hobo-ing America” which should be listed on Amazon in the not too distant future. Most recently he completed his first novel “Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother” which will be published soon.