NOAA OKs Factory Fish Farming for the Gulf of Mexico

That the U.S. government agency responsible for managing the nations fisheries falls within the agency responsible for international trade is painfully clear with Thursday’s announcement that NOAA will finalize regulations for open ocean aquaculture in the Gulf of Mexico. The press material accompanying the announcement leads with the Commerce Department objective of closing the seafood trade gap, not with the importance of managing a stressed natural resource, fisheries, or ensuring the health of an ecological and biological wonder, the world’s oceans. Unfortunately, large open-ocean fish farms are not the solution to reducing the amount of fish eaten by Americans that is grown or caught overseas and it could endanger both domestic fisheries and the environment upon which they depend.

At less than 5 percent, U.S. farmed fish is a tiny proportion of fish eaten by U.S. consumers. Open ocean aquaculture would make no noticeable impact on that figure unless it were to grow into an enormous industry. Such a huge ocean fish-farming industry would have two very scary implications for the world’s oceans:

  1. Pollution and escaped farm fish. Ocean aquaculture can be a messy, often referred to as factory fish farms for their resemblance to large-scale animal agriculture on land. For each farm, we’re looking at thousands of fish crammed into an offshore pen with the local environment exposed to large amounts of fish food, waste, and whatever pharmaceuticals might be necessary to keep the fish alive under such conditions.

    The consumer group Food & Water Watch estimates that the $5 billion factory fish farming industry the government would like to see develope would generate as much nitrogen waste as found in the untreated sewage of 17.1 million people – twice the population of New York City.

    And even though NOAA’s guidelines would only allow aquaculture of fish native to the Gulf, farm escapees can still pose a risk. Farm animals are generally from a very limited genetic stock that could contaminate and skew the natural populations, potentially making the wild fish more susceptible to disease. Plus farm animals are breed for fast growth and escaped farm fish could outcompete wild ones for food.

    Bryan Walsh of Time Magazine
    warns that attempting to displace imported farmed seafood with domestic aquaculture could lead to a “race to the bottom” in which “no one wins.” He explains that “part of the reason that countries like Chile, China and Honduras are able to supply inexpensive seafood to American eaters is because of lower environmental standards.”

  2. Possible increase in overfishing to supply fish-food for aquaculture. The fish that fetch a market price worth the effort for aquaculture operators are top-of-the-food-chain fish. “It can take over six pounds of this wild fish to create one pound of farmed fish, a formula that is both highly environmentally and economically inefficient,” according to Food & Water Watch. Gulf aquaculture at a scale that would have any effect on our international trade deficit would have a voracious appetite for feeder fish upon which wild predator fish depend too.

Then there’s the farce that this scenerio is good for the Gulf of Mexico economy or fisherman. There’s no question that aquaculture on this scale (remember, we’re trying to alter the international trade deficit) would alter the Gulf economy. Whether the change would be for the good is an open question. Flooding the U.S. market with farmed fish that were previously only available from wild fisheries will depress the price of those fish. The Gulf of Mexico fishing industry as we know it, which has been battered by hurricanes and oil spills, is unlikely to survive that.

Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter sums it up nicely: “Industrial ocean fish farming is a filthy way to produce fish, and contrary to NOAA’s claims, it is not a sustainable means to supplement the U.S. seafood supply, protect ocean resources, or promote a healthy economy in the United States.”

Related Stories:

Overfishing 101: How Ocean Fish Populations are Managed in the U.S.

Overfishing 101: How Ocean Fish Populations are Managed in the U.S. (Part 2)

Fish farm off the coast of Hawaii photographed by NOAA


W. C
W. C1 years ago


William C
William C1 years ago

Thank you.

Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for sharing.

Sarah M.
Sarah M7 years ago

This is one of the stupidest decisions ever! It's so upsetting.

Abbe A.
Azaima A7 years ago

Business trumps the public interest once again.

Michael C.
Michael C7 years ago

Open water farms are tantamount to the age old saying, "The solution to pollution is dilution". It is like private grazing of cattle of public lands, only the grower wins.

I have recently, witnessed an entire lake in Nicaragua polluted beyond use due to one small fish farm operator.

I suggest that those of you who have read the article and are currently reading this, search.....AQUAPONICS, here is a sustainable alternative. 

While initial cost for infrastructure seems high, i would suggest creating a coop. Remember, it is an investment and the return is excellent.
Aquaponics can be certified organic, even internationally.

With Aquaponics, we use a series of tanks, holding tilapia, the "waste" ladened water pass from the tanks through to a group of filter tanks, the nutrient rich waters now pass on to a series of 6 canals.
Floating in the canals are rafts in which there are as many as 1500 net baskets, providing support for various veggies, fruits and herbs.

As the water passes through the canals, the plants uptake the nutrients and the once again cleansed water returns to the fish.

The is a continuous cycle, there is no discarding of waste water, outside of the system.

The replacement of water is about 1-4 % per year, due to evaporation or spillage. 

The info presented here is an condensed version of what takes place on a day to day basis of operation.


Michael C.
Michael C7 years ago

Continued from above:


, the beauty of this system is that it can be installed in a city, suburb, an old shopping mall, parking lot and of course, in the countryside. Nearly every small town could have a series in production for local use.

Now weight the value of that, no "iffy" fish from who knows where, the fuel savings, local employment, the benefits are there, just not wisdom.

I invite anyone interested in more info to contact me, i will attempt to guide you in the right direction.

Pego R.
Pego R7 years ago

Hi Tierney

Gulf water is an unlikly thing to use for gardens, so I must assume you meant the Aquaponics systems waters? If so then you are wayy off. Unlike hydroponics systems, or even those on-land fish farms, 'Ponics systems normally utilize home-grown bugs and veggies to feed the fish and then use the fish poo to feed the veggies in the filtering beds, as such the remaining waste build-ups are pretty much what the Dr ordered for restoring land soils as well.

This is an update of ancient systems, not much changed from the Aztec weir farms. If you look into you will see this extreemy efficient, organic system.

Danuta W.
Danuta W7 years ago