For Immediate Release, October 1, 2020

Contact:

Jaclyn Lopez, (727) 490-9190, jlopez@biologicaldiversity.org

EPA OKs First Finfish Farm in Federal Waters

Fish Farm Would Dump 80,000 Pounds of Fish Food, Feces Annually Off Florida’s Gulf Coast

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— The Environmental Protection Agency has authorized a permit to discharge 80,000 pounds of fish farm waste directly into the Gulf of Mexico from the first finfish farm ever authorized in federal waters. The Velella Epsilon experimental fish farm off Florida’s west coast received the permit late yesterday, the EPA announced today.

“The EPA has not adequately addressed concerns about impacts to human health, the environment and imperiled wildlife,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re also concerned about this project’s influence on red tide and Ocean Era Inc.’s ability to maintain the security of its fish farm during a severe storm.”

The fish farm would rear up to 88,000 pounds of Almaco jack in public waters off the coast of Sarasota for 12-14 months in a submersible, copper-mesh fish pen. For every pound of fish reared, the fish farm may require up to two pounds of fish feed. Of the fish feed consumed, 10% is expelled as solid waste and 30% as liquid waste. The fish may also require antibiotics while in the pen.

The permit authorizes the direct discharge of up to 80,000 pounds of excess fish feed and feces into the Gulf of Mexico, which could amount to 36 pounds of ammonia nitrogen and 309 pounds of solid waste per day.

The fish farm will be in habitat used by imperiled Gulf of Mexico fish, including the giant manta ray, oceanic whitetip and smalltooth sawfish. It may also affect Endangered Species Act-listed sea turtles, including leatherback, Kemp’s ridley, hawksbill, loggerhead and green sea turtles, as well as Florida manatees and six species of Gulf whales: blue whales, Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whales, fin whales, humpback whales, sei whales and sperm whales.

These endangered species can be attracted to the uneaten feed and feces from fish farms and become entangled in the pens, exposed to vessel strikes, and subjected to increased ocean noise.

The aquaculture industry also has many well-documented impacts on human health and the environment, including death and injury to industry workers, navigation hazards to other water users and antibiotic resistance in marine animals. Impacts on people include increased exposure to toxins.

Two additional concerns are red tide and storms. Studies suggest that nutrients that will likely be discharged from the fish farm can worsen red tide. Red tide produces brevetoxins that kill marine wildlife and cause respiratory and intestinal distress in humans.

Climate change is increasing the intensity of storms in the region, and concerns remain regarding Ocean Era Inc.’s ability to secure its fish farm under the force of a major storm or series of storms.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Programs: