California takes lead with fish farming regulations bill

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Posted by on May 11, 2006 at 22:30:21:

Associated Press

SACRAMENTO - California would impose some of the world's toughest restrictions on fish farming under a bill sent to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger by the Senate on Thursday.

No commercial fish farming exists off California's coast yet, but the federal government is seeking a fivefold expansion in aquaculture in the next two decades to try to relieve pressure on wild fish populations.

Under the bill, fish farms would be banned without a lease from the state Fish and Game Commission, which would be required to adopt regulations governing the farms.

By setting standards for environmental reviews and leases for use of state-controlled waters, bill supporters said, the state can address problems that have plagued other areas.

Those problems include fish escaping from the pens and breeding or spreading disease to wild populations, the use of chemicals to treat commercial stocks in open water pens, controlling fish waste and putting fish farms in inappropriate locations.

"For once we're actually ahead of the curve in addressing an environmental concern before it happens," said the bill's author, state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto.

"Aquaculture is the future of our oceans," said Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Thousand Oaks. But he said Simitian's bill would discourage fish farming.

"When you regulate something you get less of it," McClintock said. "Regulations don't help business, they hurt it. Regulations impede the expansion of enterprise."

Simitian said the standards are supported by fishing organizations and the aquaculture industry, as well as environmental groups.

"There are very few states that have comprehensive standards," said Tim Eichenberg, regional director of The Ocean Conservancy, which supports the bill. "It would be the strongest standards in the country and perhaps the world. We're hoping this provides a model for the federal government."

Senators voted 22-11, largely along party lines, to approve Assembly amendments to the bill, which sent it to Schwarzenegger, who has not taken a position on it.

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