PUBLISHED: 6:15 PM on Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Palin calls for a halt to offshore fish farm proposal
ANCHORAGE - Gov. Sarah Palin expressed her administration's objections on Sept. 12 to elements of the federal government's proposal to allow decommissioned oil and gas platforms in federal waters to be used for fish farming and other forms of aquaculture.

"Alaska's natural wild fisheries have been well managed on a sustainable basis for years, and are critically important to our state's economy, especially in our coastal communities," Palin said. "Disease, parasites, and escapement of non-native stocks from fish farms are just some elements of the threat that aquaculture can pose to wild fish stocks."

Palin's comments came in response to a Minerals Management Service (MMS) proposal that would allow offshore oil and gas platforms to be used for aquaculture. Palin outlined several specific concerns, including:

• Marketplace confusion about Alaska's healthy, wild seafood resulting in lost fisheries value to the state;

• Disease and parasite transmission;

• Escapes/releases of farmed fish possibly leading to colonization by non-native fish species and genetic impacts on native species

The state of Alaska has consistently requested that authorization of offshore aquaculture be considered only after establishing comprehensive biological and socio-economic baselines that will allow for a meaningful evaluation of its effects.

In a letter to Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne, Palin requested that offshore aquaculture be removed from a list of authorized alternate rights-of-use for decommissioned platforms.

In a separate letter, Palin asked that the MMS schedule of public hearings in coastal states on the proposed rule be expanded to include public hearings in Alaska, where the potential for expansion of oil and gas development activity is great. In addition to concerns about potential impacts of offshore aquaculture, Palin objected to MMS' regulatory authorization of offshore aquaculture when Congress is considering two bills authorizing such activity.

"This issue is of such importance to our coastal economy and environment that it deserves a thorough and comprehensive review by Congress and should not be authorized through regulation by an agency whose primary expertise is energy, not management of marine resources," Palin said.

If Kempthorne were to move forward with a proposed rule change allowing aquaculture activities in offshore federal waters, Palin urged him to prohibit farming of certain species such as salmon, halibut and black cod. She further asked the secretary to allow each individual state the ability to decide for itself whether aquaculture should occur in federal waters off its shores.