cobia aquaculture

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Farm-raised cobia swim in a large pen.

We have so much going on with our fisheries and fishery management. It’s challenging to educate ourselves and address all of them. How do we acquire and utilize accurate information in today’s ridiculous world? We have so many conflicting perspectives, and most of us don’t want to hear anything other than what we already believe. It’s got to be even harder for legislators and fishery managers to balance the needs and wants of so many different people and groups, each one believing their viewpoint is the right one.

If you have a few minutes, the National Aquaculture Association has published an excellent document discussing some of the misunderstood aspects of fish farming (http://bit.ly/2uSRWL0). It’s only 17 pages long and is referenced for documentation.

I understand most of us can’t make the time or understand such documents. I’ll try to summarize most of it and attempt to answer some of the questions I hear about aquaculture. Be patient. I’m not a scientist, but do have extensive experience dealing with aquaculture protocols, and I understand our need to have safe, clean fish without trashing our native species and waters.

Here are some thoughts about this sea farming project I want to share. Like it or not, we need aquaculture. Commercial fishing can’t meet the demands. Those “Yes, but not in my neighborhood” arguments do not work. I’m quoting and paraphrasing from the above documents.

Timing is everything. We want to have more fresh local seafood in stores and restaurants, but we aren’t allowing the necessary research to find ways to do it. Creating the procedures and facilities is time-consuming and expensive. Add the hoops of paperwork and it’s almost impossible.

Kampachi Farms, a Hawaii-based aquaculture company, has filed for a permit to do a research project 45 miles off Sarasota. They plan to raise almaco jacks (a native species) for food. Mote Marine has contracted to provide the fingerlings if the project is approved. They are interested in monitoring it also for a better understanding of sustainable aquaculture in the open ocean. They are not partners.

The demand for quality-controlled seafood is here. The U.S.’s seafood trade deficit is a staggering $14 billion annually. Approximately 91 percent of seafood consumed in our country and Florida is imported, and more than half is farmed. Note much of this comes from countries that are not regulated for health quality controls like U.S. production is. How do we meet this demand without fish farms here? How can we balance our needs and concerns to allow this exploration?

This project could be an opportunity to discover solutions. It’s the first step in looking for answers to our seafood challenges. This has been funded by grants from Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission and Florida Sea Grant. The pilot program is well-planned, vetted and extensively researched, and the paperwork to attempt this is astronomical.

Commercial fishermen cannot meet our fresh seafood demands. They deal with strict limits, seasons and quotas. Those things are necessary if we want to have enough fish to sustain the harvest, but it means we can’t catch enough to satisfy the desire. We want and need affordable and safe seafood protein.

I can’t cover it all here, but our regulatory agencies have addressed water quality and discharge concerns. The documentation is in the paper. It’s way too much to try to print here. One challenge, as always, is all the inability of local, state and federal regulators to communicate and work together. They all want their say. This creates costly paperwork and extensive time for anyone to dig through. These slow our ability to start anything and add costs to end consumers, but also ensure compliance and safety.

There is also a section explaining excess feed, untreated fish waste and nutrients. In our shallower Gulf, many of us have concerns here. As a fisherman, I can tell you I believe this project will provide an extremely valuable fish attractor if you can reach it. I’m certain snappers and pelagic fish will congregate around a suspended structure with food.

Note also the U.S. severely restricts the availability and use of any drugs, cleaning agents, antibiotics, etc. Antifoulants are restricted just like for our boats. I understand many of you want answers to these and other questions. They’re are available if you make time to read them.

We can’t turn back the clock to when commercial fishing was able to feed everyone. Those days are long gone. But we can help address seafood shortages if we’re willing to explore options. We absolutely need to exercise caution and ensure safeguards are strong enough to protect native stocks and water quality.

But here’s how it is, as plain as I can say it: We are lagging behind the world in aquaculture, and the demand is here. If we want fresh local fish for dinner, we need safe fish farms. We need to decide how to proceed.

Remember that you can’t catch fish if you don’t go fishin’, so let’s go fishin’ soon.

Capt. Van Hubbard is a highly respected outdoor writer and fishing guide. He has been a professional USCG-licensed year-round guide since 1976, and has been fishing the Southwest Florida coast since 1981. Contact him at 941-468-4017 or VanHubbard@CaptVan.com.

Capt. Van Hubbard is a highly respected outdoor writer and fishing guide. He has been a professional USCG-licensed year-round guide since 1976, and has been fishing the Southwest Florida coast since 1981. Contact him at 941-468-4017 or VanHubbard@CaptVan.com.

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