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U.S. Seeks to Increase Ocean Fish Farming

I’m Gwen Outen with the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

Most fish farming involves freshwater fish. Eighty-five percent of aquaculture in the United States is done in rivers and lakes. Production at sea mostly involves shellfish harvested close to shore.

But a proposed American law could greatly increase ocean aquaculture. It would permit fish farming up to three hundred twenty kilometers from shore. The bill is called the National Offshore Aquaculture Act of two thousand five. The administration of President Bush sent the measure to Congress on June seventh.

Fishing laws limit the size and time of year of harvests. The proposed changes would define aquaculture harvesting as something other than fishing.

The secretary of commerce would gain the power to sell ten-year permits to operate ocean farms. Production would take place within waters called the Exclusive Economic Zone. Foreign companies could buy the permits if they have an American business agent. The secretary could also establish environmental requirements if existing ones are not enough.

Some experts say more fish farming could help wild populations recover from over-fishing. But critics say strong rules are needed so fish farms do not threaten the environment or wild fish populations. Fishermen's groups worry about possible effects on traditional fisheries.

Pollution is a concern. Also, farmed fish can escape into wild populations. And farmed fish are fed wild-caught fish.

Conrad Lautenbacher heads the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the Commerce Department. He says the goal is to balance the needs of fishermen, coastal areas, seafood consumers, the environment and the aquaculture industry.

Demand for seafood is increasing. There are strong economic reasons for the United States to increase its aquaculture operations. The nation imports about seventy percent of its seafood, much of it farm-raised. The National Marine Fisheries Service says the seafood trade deficit is eight thousand million dollars.

Internationally, the ocean aquaculture industry is growing. Fish such as cod, flounder and even tuna are being raised. These fish bring higher prices than more commonly farmed seafood.

The most commonly farmed fish is the carp. And the world's biggest aquaculture producer is China.

This VOA Special English Agriculture Report was written by Mario Ritter. Our reports are online at I'm Gwen Outen.