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New England groups warn against 'factory' fish farming in federal waters

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Kathryn Carley

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New England fishermen and environmental groups are working to prevent the growth of industrial-size fish farms in U.S. open waters.

They said federal legislation known as the "AQUAA Act" would permit so-called "floating feedlots" similar to land-based dairy and poultry farms, known to use heavy amounts of pesticides and antibiotics.

James Mitchell, legislative director for the advocacy group Don't Cage Our Oceans, said there is no way to contain the chemicals or tons of untreated fish waste created.

"In fact, the whole reason for it is to rely on Mother Nature for its ecosystem services, to wash away the pollutants from the fish themselves so that they don't go belly up," Mitchell pointed out.

Backers of large-scale aquaculture argued it is needed to feed the world but studies show such farms often produce fewer fish than the number of wild fish taken from the ocean to make fish food.

Maine's abundant coastline and history of working waterfronts make it an ideal place for an aquaculture business, and numerous small-scale shellfish and marine plant farms are boosting local economies. But commercial fishermen say the growth of large, foreign-owned fish farms endangers both the ocean and their livelihoods.

Jason Jarvis, commercial fisherman and board president of the North American Marine Alliance, said aquaculture should be locally owned and low-impact.

"I think if we had multiple, small-scale aquaponics systems -- compared to large, industrial-size aquaculture -- I mean, it's a big difference in who benefits and how you benefit," Jarvis explained.

Jarvis noted it is the small- and medium-scale fishermen feeding their communities who keep working waterfronts alive. He added there is no guarantee in the AQUAA Act farm-raised fish would stay in the U.S., which already imports more than 90 percent of the seafood it consumes.