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In response to the Empire editorial "Offshore fish farming threats need research" on June 19, your editorial correctly pointed out that Alaskan fishermen are struggling to compete with fish farmers in other parts of the globe. Perhaps that is why aquaculture is already an important part of Alaska's fishing heritage, as 30 percent of wild Alaska salmon are hatchery-raised. Farming seafood in hatcheries for stock enhancement benefits both commercial and recreational fisheries, and is a major component of our overall aquaculture program.
The legislation we proposed is clear. We will establish environmental standards before we issue a single permit for aquaculture facilities, and we will honor existing laws that protect our natural resources. Instead of simply dictating regulations from Washington, D.C., we have opted to develop the rules via a robust public dialogue with stakeholders around the country. In the end, we will have a set of environmental standards where there currently are none.
To set these standards, we will draw on NOAA's 30-plus years of experience in aquaculture research and development and identify industry best practices. NOAA's investments in technology have brought us to a point where we can avoid or minimize the potential environmental problems cited in the Empire's editorial.
Alaska is understandably concerned about the creation of direct competition to wild harvest fisheries. The administration is too. The intent of this bill is not to set up direct competition with thriving wild harvests, but to fill market gaps and give America's coastal communities more business options.
Sen. Ted Stevens introduced the bill with an amendment that allows states to opt-out, meaning that aquaculture will remain Alaska's choice. The fact remains, however, America already relies on farmed seafood to meet our market needs, and this reliance will continue to grow. We have a choice: continue to import most of our seafood, or grow some of it ourselves in an environmentally responsible manner and generate more jobs and revenues for our coastal communities.
Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher (U.S. Navy, retired)
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration