- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 3, 2005

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — 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, yellowfin tuna and flounder under a plan backed by the Bush administration.

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 under way because of the federal government’s reluctance to open up the oceans to farming.

Yet in December, the White House proposed making it easier to create fish farms off the nation’s coasts by resolving a “confounding array of regulatory and legal obstacles.”

Fish farming in the rough-and-tumble ocean, by enclosing thousands of fish in submerged pens serviced by scuba divers, is limited commercially to waters within state jurisdiction, where permits have tended to be easier to obtain. Moi is grown in Hawaii and cobia is farmed near Puerto Rico. Salmon farming is common, but it takes place mostly in the calm waters of fjords and bays.

But, fish farmers say, the future is rosy and fast-approaching.

“In Asia, they’re starting to creep off into the open waters; there’s a lot of talk of doing it in Ireland. In the Mediterranean, they are now looking at moving out into open waters and experimenting with new cages,” said Richard Langan, who heads the University of New Hampshire’s Open Ocean Aquaculture program. He is experimenting with a variety of species — cod, Atlantic halibut, haddock, summer flounder and mussels.

With seafood now accounting for about $7 billion in the nation’s foreign trade deficit, advocates of deep-sea farming say mariculture would bolster American seafood production and provide much-needed employment to coastal communities harmed by the eclipse of traditional fishing.

The U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy recommended in its report last year to move forward with offshore aquaculture, but to hold it to high environmental standards. In a response to the commission’s report, President Bush in his Ocean Action Plan listed offshore farming legislation as a priority this year.

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