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October 20, 2008

NCMC: Speak out against Gulf Council's new offshore aquaculture plan

Written comments accepted until 5:00 pm ET on October 27, 2008.

NOAA and the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Gulf Council) are at it again -- moving full speed ahead with their latest plan to establish offshore aquaculture in federal waters of the Gulf. Though just released to the public for comment on September 12th, final approval is scheduled to take place at the full Gulf Council meeting that will be held in Mobile, Alabama from October 27-30, 2008.

This past January, an alliance of fishermen, consumer groups, and conservation organizations that includes the NCMC successfully blocked approval of a Gulf Council offshore aquaculture plan. The alliance persuaded NOAA attorneys that the plan was out of compliance with several federal laws -- notably the nation's fishing law, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Now the plan has been resurrected with more specific language to be legally defensible, yet adequate safeguards to protect wild fish stocks and their environment are still lacking.

The Council's actions contradict a report released in May by the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) that concluded, "An effective federal regulatory framework for U.S. offshore aquaculture will be critical to facilitating the development of an economically sustainable industry, while at the same time protecting the health of marine ecosystems (emphasis added)." In April 2007, as a courtesy to the Administration, Chairman of the House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee Nick Rahall (D-WV) introduced the National Offshore Aquaculture Act of 2007 to establish such a framework. After the release of the GAO report, he acknowledged that the bill "does not go far enough to ensure adequate protection for the marine environment." The Offshore Aquaculture Act is still being considered by the House Committee. Yet, rather than wait for Congress to improve the bill or introduce alternative legislation, NOAA is circumventing the process by using the regional fishery management councils to implement its agenda.

We need your help. Please contact the Gulf Council, your Congressman, and/or NOAA Fisheries in opposition to this new offshore aquaculture plan.

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