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Loyola Law Professor and Team Win Battle to Keep Aquaculture out of the Gulf

By Loyola University on Mon, 08/03/2020 - 17:27

Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held illegal the Department of Commerce's federal regulations that would have permitted, for the very first time, large-scale industrial fish farming operations off the U.S. coasts. Marianne Cufone, Director of the Environmental Law Program at Loyola, along with a team of lawyers won the landmark case that will keep polluting aquaculture facilities out of the Gulf for the foreseeable future.

This case sets a nationwide precedent on aquaculture and fish farming -  including current projects up for consideration in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere. The national implication is that aquaculture all around the U.S. cannot go forward in federal waters until Congress passes a law that provides authority to do so.

This critical issue, which Professor Cufone has been working on since 2002, involved whether the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act authorized the National Oceanic Administration and the National Marine Fisheries Service to create a fish farming program in the Gulf. As local counsel for a fleet of groups that run from Louisiana to Florida, Professor Cufone, and the larger legal team, challenged the government's definition of fishing and determined that aquaculture is not appropriately managed under existing fishing law. "Aquaculture is not the same thing as fishing - just as duck farming is not duck hunting - you can't manage fish farming under laws created to manage fishing," she says.

On and off, for over 40 years, the federal government has been pushing development of an offshore aquaculture industry. Local fishing communities have resisted with good reasons. Other countries with a commercial fish farming industry have faced catastrophic problems, including fish spills, diseases, ecological and environmental damage, and economic impacts to fishing and coastal communities. So much so, that Canada and Denmark, often considered global leaders in aquaculture, are moving away from offshore fish farming. There have been a number of attempts to push for streamlined aquaculture permitting at the U.S. Congressional level, all of which failed largely due to overwhelming public opposition. 

The current administration has been issuing Executive Orders, in an effort to circumvent lawsuits and failed legislation, to speed up aquaculture projects. At a time when our Gulf communities are already struggling due to COVI-19 challenges, like restaurant and market closures, this will help prevent fishing and related businesses from losing even more money due to habitat damage and competition from farmed fish sales.  

See a press release on the case.

Read the verdict itself.