“THOUSANDS of oil and natural gas platforms in the Gulf of Mexico could be converted into deep-sea fish farms raising red snapper, mahi mahi, yellow fin tuna and flounder, under a plan backed by the Bush administration,” reports CNN news.

“For years, marine biologists and oil companies have experimented using the giant platforms as bases for mariculture, but commercial use of the platforms as fish farms never got off the ground because of the federal government’s reluctance to open up the oceans to farming. Yet in December, President Bush proposed making it easier to launch fish farms off the nation’s coasts. That could be done by resolving a ‘confounding array of regulatory and legal obstacles’, the White House said”.

Pilot projects in New Hampshire, Hawaii and soon California and Puerto Rico are testing cages large enough to hold 30,000 mid-sized fish. Engineers are working to make bigger cages, mechanized feeding tools and stronger anchors to protect against powerful currents in the open ocean. The cages sit 40 to 60 feet beneath the surface to stay out of the way of boats and to avoid most of the turbulence caused by waves.

Not everyone sees the benefits of offshore fish farming though. Republican Sam Farr, D-Carmel, sent a letter to the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in July 2004 requesting an environmental impact review before the legislation is put before Congress. “There are several issues such as water pollution, possible introduction of invasive species and spread of disease, that concern me about expanding aquaculture offshore,” Farr said. “I sincerely hope NOAA is focusing on the cumulative environmental impact of ramping up offshore aquaculture, instead of blindly promoting it as an economic opportunity”.

“I think the danger here is that the federal government is poised to make the same mistakes they made with fishing over the years,” said Mike Sutton, director of the Center for the Future of the Oceans, in an interview with the Monterey County Herald (5th April). “And that is, subsidize the heck out of a new industry with little thought to the long-term effects”. Zeke Grader, director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, agrees. “Among the fishing community, I think you’d be hard pressed to find any fisherman that would be supportive,” he said.