New Hampshire Group Proposes Offshore Fish Farming

Blue Water Fisheries, a New Hampshire-based company, is proposing to bring offshore fish farming to the waters off New England by raising millions of pounds of Atlantic salmon and steelhead trout in open-ocean pens miles from land. The proposal, which would need several approvals, would be the first of its kind off the East Coast. The project would include 40 submersible fish pens in water about 7.5 miles off Newburyport, Massachusetts, on two sites that total nearly a square mile.

Blue Water Fisheries has declined to comment on the project, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is working with the company and other federal agencies on the regulatory and approvals process. The company needs authorizations from NOAA and the US Environmental Protection Agency, among other approvals. A key step in the approvals process is the preparation of an environmental impact statement.

The aquaculture project would include pens submerged about 49 feet below the surface in depths of about 262 feet. The project would yield “up to 25.6 million pounds of a combination of steelhead trout and Atlantic salmon annually”. The company’s year-round operations would take place out of Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

The project also includes a proposal to aquaculture lumpfish, a species of fish that can be used to control parasites. Aquaculture of Atlantic salmon in ocean pens already takes place in New England, as fish farming giant Cooke Aquaculture cultures the fish off Maine. However, those operations are located in coastal areas.

Conservation groups have raised concerns about the potential harm to the environment from offshore fish farming, including the possibility of projects releasing non-native species, pollution in the form of antibiotics and pesticides used on the farms, and fish escapes that can harm wild fish stocks. The fish farms have supporters who say that the aquaculture of popular seafood species helps to take fishing pressure off wild fish stocks.

John Burrows, executive director for US operations with the Atlantic Salmon Federation, a conservation organization, has raised alarms about possible fish escapes. Using net pens far from the shoreside operations “significantly raises the likelihood of storm damage or predators causing escapes that may go undetected for several days”. Don’t Cage Our Oceans, a national group that opposes offshore fish farming, is also monitoring the project.

The proposal raises concerns about the impact of offshore fish farming on the environment and wild fish stocks. The regulatory and approvals process is ongoing, and the company needs authorizations from several federal agencies before proceeding.