Aquaculture expansion in US offshore waters thwarted again

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The United States has allowed commercial fish farming in the Gulf of Mexico since 2016 but roughly six years later, not a single farming operation is in sight.

Opposition from environmental groups and fishermen have stymied the plans of what would have been the first fish farming operation in the Gulf, about 40 miles from Florida’s coast.

That player is Velella Epsilon, which founder Neil Anthony Sims believes would have the potential to make a significant impact on the country’s aquaculture.

The company’s permit, issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA), was questioned by environmental groups in an appeal filed in November 2020. They claim that the EPA failed to meet the Clean Water Act’s legal standard in giving permit to the project.  They argued that aquaculture will threaten Gulf fish and the health of the environment.

This week, the Environmental Appeals Board issued a decision on the appeal. It ordered the EPA to clarify that the facility will not cause harm to aquatic ecosystems and species in the Gulf of Mexico.

So, for now, the first player ready to farm fish in the area is stymied yet again. There are no other fish farmers that have gone as far as Velella Epsilon in the permitting process for fish farming in the Gulf. Industry players are discouraged by the lawsuits by environmental groups and the uncertainty around the regulatory framework.

The roughly 500-acre area in the Gulf of Mexico designated by the government for commercial fish farming will allow up to 20 industrial facilities and collectively 64 million pounds of fish to be produced each year in giant net cages.