A resolution telling Congress and the president to keep fish farms out of federal ocean waters in Alaska was approved Wednesday by the House Fisheries Committee.
The resolution opposes a plan by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to allow fish farms in federal waters three to 200 miles out from Alaska's coastline. Fish farming already is banned in state waters within three miles of the coast.
Gov. Frank Murkowski has proposed a five-year moratorium on developing aquaculture or offshore fish farms in the "exclusive economic zone" three miles beyond the coast.
Paula Terrel of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council said farmed fish threatens Alaska's wild fishery. A glut in the market from farmed fish in Chile, Norway and elsewhere has driven prices down, she said, and fish farms in Alaska would put fishermen out of work.
Terrel also warned that sea lice outbreaks in British Columbia fish farms have hurt wild fish runs. She said sea lice can kill juvenile pink salmon.
"We can't stop Chile and Norway from doing what they are going to do, but that doesn't mean we have to accept it," Terrel said. "I also think (Alaska) fishermen are first and foremost conservation minded. We don't want to see our marine resources jeopardized."
Rep. Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, said Southeast Alaska fishermen have found fish covered in sea lice. She said the state and Congress should take action before it is too late.
"We can't wait until it happens because it could devastate an industry," she said.
The resolution also requests that Congress require an environmental impact study before opening federal waters to fish farms.
Kenai fisherman Herman Fandel told the committee fish farming is the wave of the future and Alaska will see fish farms sooner or later. Fandel, a sport fisherman and lodge owner, said the increasing world population will make fish farming necessary.
"We need more fish to feed the world. It's like opposing drilling for oil in ANWR," he said, referring to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
"You are not going to feed the world with high-end fish like halibut, black cod and salmon," she said.
The resolution now heads to the House Resources Committee.