The Senate Commerce Committee's National Ocean Policy Study Subscommittee will hold a hearing on Offshore Aquaculture: Challenges of Fish Farming in Federal Waters on Thursday, June 8, 2006 at 10 a.m. in the Dirksen Building room 562.
Witnesses will be announced when available.
Offshore Aquaculture Hearing:
June 8, 2006
Senator Stevens Opening Statement:
Senator Sununu, I am glad we are having this hearing today. For those of you who have not heard me say this, Alaska has half the coastline of the United States, and over 30% of the total area of the exclusive economic zone in the nation.
It is important to discuss how we can ensure that we approach offshore aquaculture in an environmentally sound manner and in such a way that does not undermine our commercially viable wild-caught fishing industries.
I want to thank David Bedford for flying all this way to testify before the committee. He is the Deputy Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and is also the Alaska Commissioner to the Pacific Salmon Commission. I look forward to hearing your testimony.
Question and Answer Session with Witnesses:
Stevens: A great fishing future, Mr. Chairman. I’m sorry I was late, I was in another meeting. Dave, I am pleased you could take the time to come all the way down here to appear before our committee. I have summaries of all your statements given to me by our staff last evening, but I’m still worried about one thing, and that is Dr. MacMillan, I believe that the state should have the right to determine what happens in terms of the areas off their shores. And I’m really worried about the problem of not having, the state, really having the right to veto a federal plan to go beyond the three miles, that that type of operation of a hatchery or some sort of fish farm might be beyond the state’s jurisdiction would propose a threat to the survival of the wild species that the state has. As you know, we have half the coastline in the United States, I think my colleagues get tired of me telling them that, but it makes a great deal of difference to us what happens in the federal waters off the shore of Alaska. Have you taken a position on the state veto?
MacMillan: Mr. Chairman, we have. We believe that the state should have the opportunity to opt out of the offshore aquaculture program. Where we have difficulty is if an investor starts the process, and maybe even builds a facility; installs it, starts operating it, and then the state, for whatever reason, decides that it’s a no-go. Then, why would a business want to take that step to…
Stevens: That’s why we’ve got the Magnus Stevens Act. We have control out there. We have a management plan, which involves both the state and the federal government operated by a regional council. Now, I don’t believe that anything should take place in the area of that council without the council’s approval. And if a state goes to the council and says “We do not want this kind of species off our shores,” then they ought to have a right to say you can’t do it. Where do you end up on that?
MacMillan: Well, we think that species selection is an important issue, and one that NOAA has authority to deal with when they determine what species, whether or not to issue a permit or an operation permit.
Stevens: I’m involved in this battle right now. It’s on the Coast Guard Bill and you may know about it, this wind farm up there in Nantucket Bay. And there’s a process under way that says the Department of the Interior will decide whether or not that wind farm can be located in navigable waters off of that state. Now if you take the same circumstances and apply it to Cook Inlet, we have an enormous Cook Inlet, and on both sides the land is primarily owned by the federal government, as a matter of fact, managed by the Department of the Interior. And, along comes someone from Britain or Holland, or someone and they want to build a wind farm in Cook Inlet, today, under the law, what happens is they go to the Department of the Interior, the Department of the Interior says “fine, you’ve got a good plan, it would be a good addition to the energy system” or they go to the energy department, they say “We’d like to have that additional energy” and what happens? The state has no say about what goes on in federal waters under the current legislation. Now, I’m saying, in terms of Nantucket Bay, the Coast Guard ought to make that determination as to navigation, both air and sea, and communications. And the state ought to have some say about where it’s sited. I’m not saying you can’t put it off there, but it ought to be sited where it will not do any harm to the economy of the area and to the creatures of the sea. Now you put that into this concept of you say, ‘if someone goes out there and builds it…’ In my opinion, they have no right to build in the 200 mile limit without a regional council’s agreement. And if that’s not clear, then we’ll make it clear. What do you say to that?
MacMillan: Mr. Chairman, I think that’s a good idea, to make things very, very clear to potential investors. That’s the key for the National Aquaculture Association. We want certainty. To whatever the legislation is, or to the rules or regulations developed by NOAA. If a business doesn’t have certainty, if they don’t know what they’re getting into because the state’s going to change things, or if the definition, as Senator Sununu was mentioning, if the definition is rather nebulous, then the risk of failure of that investment gets escalated, and offshore aquaculture is not going to be a very inexpensive proposition compared to freshwater aquaculture, for example. You’re talking about major, major dollars to be required to develop a marine ocean aquaculture program or project. And it could border on millions of dollars of investment. And, so, that’s where the risk is. That’s where we have concerns about a state deciding, once the investment’s been made, to pull the plug.
Sununu: I think the clarification here is that, Dr. MacMillan, as you were talking about, is the situation where a state chooses to participate, and a facility is licensed, whether or not that license, duly issued, because the state did not opt out, can then be revoked after the fact…
MacMillan: That’s correct.
Sununu: …and we’ve talked about is the licensing issue and the question is: is a ten year license enough? Should it be a twenty year or a thirty year, because we want to create some certainty in the same way? If a state chooses to participate, and a facility is licensed, then the federal standard should apply in that case. If a state chooses not to participate, then a license can’t be issued, and clearly those concerns do not become a factor. I think that the concern would be the retroactive elimination of a license that was issued when a state chose to participate.
Stevens: John, I don’t disagree with that, but I would like to hear from the panel, we’ve got about three minutes until we have to vote and we won’t be coming back, but the concept I see is that there’s not going to be any money invested in any offshore aquaculture until there is an application and it’s reviewed by the state and federal government, or regional council, whoever, whatever the area decides to do. I think the area, at least the council ought to make some decisions about what the process is, but very clearly, the dollars aren’t going to be spent until it is determined that the state does approve. And if the state doesn’t approve, then I don’t think that the federal government or the regional council ought to allow that process to go forward. Mr. Keeney?
Keeney: Mr. Chairman, Stevens, the Administration agrees that offshore aquaculture should only develop in areas where it’s welcome. And we’d like to work with the committee staff to develop language to provide for appropriate mechanisms where this can take place, as well as mechanisms that can reverse an opt-out decision. Now, we’re talking about space, there are 3.4 million square miles in the Exclusive Economic Zone, and we’re looking at the demands for aquaculture over the next 20 years, we think that there may be demands for as much as, say a million metric tons, which would take up no more space than the Pentagon and its parking lots. So, there’s plenty of space out there. Siting is a critical issue.
Stevens: Poison in the parking lot is still poison, though, let’s keep that straight. Dave? We have aquaculture now, in Prince William Sound, right? That was approved by the state before it was put in there, right?
Bedford: That’s correct, Senator.
Stevens: And that’s our state law. What’s wrong with that? No investment without prior approval as to siting and process.
Keeney: I have no problem with that.
Stevens: Do you, Dr. MacMillan? Anyone else? Ms. Cufone?
Cufone: I think that’s exactly right.
Stevens: Mr. Eichenberg?
Eichenberg: I agree as well.
Sununu: I also agree, Mr. Chairman.
Stevens: Dave, you had something to say? We really do have to go vote.
Bedford: Senator, just one moment if I could. One if the things that we recognize in managing dynamic natural systems in the state of Alaska when we’re dealing with these types of resources, is that we can do the best planning that we can, and we do do the best planning that we can, but in our own aquaculture permit process, we recognize that things may change and we may find out things tomorrow that we don’t know today. So whereas we would all like certainty, Mother Nature does not provide us with much of it. Thank you.
Stevens: I will never forget the salmon pens in Puget Sound. I’m sure you remember. A big storm came up, and they were all spread around. I’m not sure we ever really knew the final result of that. But very clearly, they were not the species that were indigenous to that area, as I understood it. So, that is the fear that we have, that I have, and I think that most people back here don’t know how far we’ve gone in utilizing even annual hatcheries and the systems to enhance a particular population. We should have this committee come up sometime and go look at some of the things we’ve done and understand them. Because I think that there are some places in the country that could enhance their populations. And I don’t know if you know this, Mr. Chairman, on the state legislature, we put up $40,000 to take some fingerlings from Alaskan silver salmon to the Great Lakes. The great population now of salmon in the Great Lakes came from a little initiative from a new state.
(Later in the Hearing)
Stevens: Let me just add, there’s 2.5 million acres of federal waters in just the Cook Inlet. Beyond state jurisdiction, there’s 2.5 million acres. And I think that’s the area where people looking at aquaculture in our state. It’s going to be a long time before that happens.
Witness Panel 1
Mr. Tim R.E. KeeneyDeputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and AtmosphereNational Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration
Dr. Randy MacMillanPresidentNational Aquaculture Association
Mr. Tim EichenbergDirector, Pacific Regional OfficeThe Ocean Conservancy
Ms. Marianne Cufone Esq.President and CEOEnvironmental Matters
Mr. David BedfordDeputy CommissionerAlaska Department of Fish and Game