Opinion: Biden must help California fishermen in our dispute over dangerous fish farms

Halmay is a sea urchin fisherman who represents the San Diego Fishermen’s Working Group and lives in Lakeside. black is the organizer of the Don’t Cage our Oceans Coalition and lives in Los Angeles.

This spring, we join Californians across the state in calling on the federal government to protect our local marine ecosystems and the communities that depend on them.

When people think of California, they think of our shores. Our vibrant ocean supports a robust fishing industry as well as many hospitality, tourism and leisure businesses. But in recent years, our coastal businesses have faced a number of challenges; Pollution, climate change and development along the coast make it difficult for independent businesses to survive.

Now, in 2023, another threat is looming: The National Oceans and Atmospheric Administration is proposing Southern California as a new location for industrial-scale fish farming. Last spring, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration identified 10 aquaculture opportunity areas off the coast of Southern California. These areas are considered ideal for offshore fish farming, although two of them are in close proximity to a Superfund site where 500,000 drums of the banned pesticide DDT were dumped.

Although no areas of San Diego were included in the original aquaculture opportunity areas, the Pacific Ocean aqua farm proposal off our coast is now being considered. While smaller than other potential projects, this yellowtail fish farm would still release antibiotics, pesticides and other chemicals into the public resource, the Pacific Ocean.

This proposed development, planned in collaboration with the Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute, would create enclosures nearly 30 feet wide and 45 feet deep that could trap marine species such as the endangered monk seal and humpback whale. As representatives of fishermen and advocates of sustainable fishing practices, we know full well how detrimental these facilities would be to our working fishermen, the marine ecosystem and the local economy.

This proposal comes seven years after a similar project, Rose Canyon Fisheries, was delayed and eventually canceled due in part to opposition from local fishermen. Although labeled as more sustainable, developments like Pacific Ocean AquaFarms are polluting our marine environment in exactly the same way.

Offshore fish fish aquaculture is a type of factory farming that uses these huge net pens to raise fish in a confined space, which can then lead to the rapid spread of diseases and pests like sea lice.

These cages allow excess food, untreated fish waste, antibiotics and other chemicals to leak into the surrounding ocean, where they can wreak havoc on our wild ecosystem by contributing to toxic algal blooms and other forms of pollution. Open-netted enclosures are also susceptible to damage, and when enclosures break, large numbers of larger farmed fish can crowd out wild fish for food, habitat, or mates.

We have seen the destruction caused by factory farming on land, also known as Confined Animal Feeding Operations. These farms raise thousands of animals in small areas with little or no contact with the natural world and involve water pollution and public health risks. The same model is now being exported to the oceans – essentially, offshore finfish farms are animal feed farms at sea, and some of the same big players in the farming industry are behind them.

In 2022, over 175 fisheries associations, environmental organizations and companies sent an open letter to the White House asking President Joe Biden to repeal a 2020 executive order supporting industrial aquaculture. The executive order streamlines the process for companies to obtain permits to build new facilities without introducing environmental protections or safety precautions such as adequate oversight by Congress.

Despite vocal opposition from our diverse coalition, the Biden administration continues to perpetuate this Trump-era status quo in favor of big business over working fishermen. The companies that are pushing to build these facilities want to profit from our shared natural resources, while at the same time crowding out smaller companies like the ones we represent with huge volumes of lower quality farmed fish.

We know that the benefits our inshore fisheries, recreation and hospitality businesses derive from our oceans should be reinvested back into our local communities so future generations can thrive. Californians can — and must — once again set a national example of ecological progress by engaging our leaders in the fight to protect our oceans. We deserve a bold agenda that supports coastal communities and affirms once and for all that our oceans are not for sale.


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