Farming the Deep

Two NOAA WP-3D Orions
Two NOAA WP-3D Orions Wikimedia Commons

The deep ocean is the world's last massively hunted wild frontier. But the fishermen that lay hooks and nets in the abyss may soon be joined by farmers harvesting the same crops.

Giant barn-sized cages full of cod, haddock, snapper and tuna already exist off the coasts of Hawaii, New Hampshire and Puerto Rico. They are hidden tens of feet beneath the surface, suspended from the ocean floor. Divers clean the cages, feed the fish and make like sheepdogs--herding the fish into adjoining cages when they are ready for harvest.  Existing pens lurk below the surface in state waters, less than three miles off the coast. The branch of the U.S. government that regulates fishing, NOAA, announced Monday that they sent a bill to Congress that would allow giant fish farms in federal waters, from 3 to 200 miles off the coast. It is a revision of a 2005 bill.

Proponents of the new bill point to the fact that the United States imports 80 percent of its seafood and has an $8 billion fisheries debt. They say that new technologies need to be developed to allow a greater harvest to meet a growing demand for fish. Opponents point to the genetic and environmental pollution caused by freshwater fish farms. They say there are risks involved in farming the open ocean.

They both may be right, but one thing is for sure: Humanity's demand for protein rich food is leading to increased encroachment on wild and remote locations

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