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Farming to the Rescue

September 2011 Florida Sportsman Openers


When we launched the campaign to ban gillnet slaughters 19 years ago there came this common question:

“But what will everybody eat?”

Commercial fish netters claimed that without their big landings Florida would face the end of seafood dining as we knew it.

We had a good answer for them, although, frankly, we didn’t know how fast the crop would grow:

“Aquaculture.”

We noted that, even then, the poundage of farmed species like catfish and salmon far outnumbered all of our coastal net take. Fingers crossed, recreational groups said that surely the same revolution that removed wild freshwater life from market exploitation would take sales pressure off saltwater fish. It was an important vision of the day.

Unfortunately, fisheries management was controlled by private and government powers that for a generation held back the subject of fish farming in order to prop up wild fish operations.

Now, rather suddenly and happily, the game may be changing fast toward aquaculture.

Farming fish makes very good sense. I’d even urge my grandson to skip plastics and grow fins.

Instead of pooh-poohing aquaculture, our government has just announced ambitious plans for an Aquaculture Technology Transfer Initiative. NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco said the program “will showcase innovative sustainable practices.”

This is welcome news from Lubchenco, an environmentalist we think had shown remarkably poor knowledge and judgment. Until now at least, she lumped over-exploitative commercial hauls in with sustainable recreational fishing, never recognizing the crucial differences between the two.

Non-commercial fishing in the wild becomes easy to manage without the pressure of excessive commercial hauls. That was learned inland a century ago. Jane missed class that day. A makeup is in order.

A new understanding of those old principles could get us over jarring bumps in the road such as the absurd closure of all Atlantic red snapper fishing to both families and factories despite the species’ plain abundance.

So keep an eye on government’s changing view of aquaculture.

Funny, back in the net-ban war, a seafood lobbyist accused me regularly of having a secret interest in fish farms. I had an interest, all right, but not the type I could bank.

It’s the fastest growing food production category in the world.

True, there are challenges regarding efficient feed systems and pollution prevention, but that’s the nature of all farming. Aquaculture’s future looks brighter than ever. FS