Opinion: Biden needs California fishermen’s help in our dispute over dangerous fish farms

I dreamed The sea urchin fisherman represents the San Diego Fisherman Action Group and lives in Lakeside. Schwartz She is an organizer with the Don’t Cage Our Oceans Coalition and lives in Los Angeles.

This spring, we join Californians across the state in calling on the federal government to protect local ocean ecosystems and the communities that depend on them.

When people think of California, they think of our coasts. Our vibrant surroundings support a robust seafood industry, as well as numerous hospitality, tourism and leisure businesses. But in recent years, our coastal businesses have faced a series of challenges; Pollution, climate change, and development along the coast have made it difficult for independent businesses to survive.

Now in 2023, another threat looms: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is looking at Southern California as a new site for industrial-scale finfish farms. This past spring, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration identified 10 aquaculture opportunity areas off the coast of Southern California. These areas are ideal for marine fish farms, despite the fact that two of them are close to the Superfund site where 500,000 barrels of the banned pesticide DDT were dumped.

Although no areas of San Diego have been included in the original Aquaculture Opportunity Areas, the proposal for hydroponic farms in the Pacific Ocean off our coast is now being considered. Although smaller than other potential projects, the yellowtail fish farm will continue to release antibiotics, pesticides, and other chemicals into the common resource that is the Pacific Ocean.

The proposed development, which is planned jointly with the Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute, would create pens approximately 30 feet wide and 45 feet deep that could engage marine species such as endangered monk seals and humpback whales. As representatives of fishers and advocates for sustainable fishing practices, we know how harmful these facilities can be to our working fishers, the ocean ecosystem and the local economy.

The proposal comes seven years after a similar project, Rose Canyon Fisheries, was delayed and eventually canceled due to disapproval from local fishermen. Although framed as more sustainable, developments like Pacific Ocean AquaFarms pollute our marine environment in exactly the same way.

Marine finfish farming is a type of industrial farm that uses these huge net pens to raise fish in cramped spaces, which can then quickly spread diseases and pests like sea lice.

These cages allow excess feed, untreated fish waste, antibiotics and other chemicals to flow into the surrounding oceans where they can damage our wild ecosystem by contributing to toxic algal blooms and other forms of pollution. Open-mesh pens are also vulnerable to damage, and when the pens break, massive spills of large farmed fish can outpace wild fish for food, habitat, or mates.

We’ve seen the devastation caused by factory farms on Earth, otherwise known as confined animal feeding operations. These operations raise thousands of animals in small areas with little or no exposure to the natural world and are associated with water pollution and public health risks. That same model is now being exported to the oceans — essentially, marine finfish farms are animal feeding operations confined to the sea, and some of the major players in the agricultural industry are behind it.

In 2022, more than 175 fishing groups, environmental organizations and companies delivered an open letter to the White House, urging President Joe Biden to rescind a 2020 executive order supporting industrial aquaculture. The executive order simplifies the process for companies to obtain permits to build new facilities, without establishing environmental protections or safeguards, such as proper oversight by Congress.

Despite vocal opposition from our diverse coalition, the Biden administration continues to uphold the Trump-era status quo in favor of mega-corporations over worker hunters. The companies that pay to build these facilities are intent on profiting from our shared natural resources while driving small companies like the one we represent out of the market with massive amounts of low-quality farmed fish.

We know that the benefits that our coastal fishing, recreation and hospitality businesses reap from our surroundings must be reinvested in our local communities to allow future generations to thrive. Californians can — and should — once again set a national model for environmental progress by engaging our leaders in the fight to protect our oceans. We deserve a bold agenda that supports coastal communities and affirms once and for all that our oceans are not for sale.