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EPA publishes draft permit for floating factory farm

Agency proposes to allow industrial ocean fish farm discharge of untreated fish waste and other toxins directly into Gulf of Mexico

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Environmental Protection Agency announced plans for an industrial ocean fish farm to operate in the Gulf of Mexico late Friday afternoon. If finalized, the draft National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit would allow the facility, named Velella Epsilon, to confine at least 20,000 farmed fish in a net pen system, which would discharge industrial waste directly into Gulf of Mexico waters.

“The EPA has failed our ocean ecosystem and coastal communities by taking steps toward approving an industrial ocean fish farm in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Hallie Templeton, senior oceans campaigner for Friends of the Earth. “The Gulf already suffers from extensive and ongoing offshore drilling activity, and just last year experienced the worst red tide in more than a decade. Floating feedlots would only cause more destruction to the region.”

Industrial ocean fish farming is the mass cultivation of finfish in the ocean in net pens, pods, and cages. Essentially floating factory farms, these facilities directly discharge a slew of toxins into the ocean ecosystem, such as untreated fish waste and pharmaceuticals. They also pose devastating impacts for coastal communities, workers, wild-capture fisheries and other food producers.

The industry routinely causes massive farmed fish spills – like the August 2017 spill of more than 260,000 non-native Atlantic salmon into Puget Sound – which threaten wild fish stocks by spreading pests and disease, and increase competition for food, habitat, and reproduction. Facilities also attract and entangle marine mammals and seabirds and marginalize wild-capture fisheries and coastal economies.

The public announcement includes an environmental assessment of the industry, which acknowledges that the industrial ocean fish farm will harm the surrounding environment, which is home to several hundred species, some of which are threatened or endangered. EPA has opened a 30 day commenting period on the draft permit, which closes on September 29, 2019.

Expert contact: Hallie Templeton, (434) 326-4647, htempleton@foe.org
Communications contact: Patrick Davis, (202) 222-0744, pdavis@foe.org

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