SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – If permitting is finalized, an offshore fish farm demonstration could soon be coming to the Gulf of Mexico. The aquaculture project is planned to be about 40 miles off the coast of Venice. It would be the first of its kind in federal waters.
Ocean Era is the company behind the Tampa Bay demonstration. The Hawaii-based company aims to ‘soften humanity’s footprint on the seas’.
The demonstration would involve raising thousands of native Almaco Jack in an ‘aquapod’ net pen until they reach market value or about four pounds. The plan was originally to stock 20,000 fish, but now is expected to be between 4,000-5,000.
The project is meant to demonstrate the feasibility of commercial aquaculture by way of a small-scale demonstration, according to project manager Dennis Peters.
“Part of this is demonstrating to all stakeholders abroad and that is not just recreational and commercial fisherman, but also any ocean-user that a project such at this scale or even a commercial scale can be done properly and safely,” said Peters.
With this being the first project of its kind in the gulf, the folks at Ocean Era are being met with opposition from residents and local environmentalists.
“We are more concerned with the water quality impact that this fish farm could have locally on the environment and especially in the Venice and Sarasota area, because we are kind of at Ground Zero if the pollution ends up coming our way,” said Manasota-88 Chair Glenn Compton.
Compton feels the project is not appropriate for the area.
“It is a pilot project and that means that we will probably see a lot more in the future if this gets approved, so now is the time to stop it before it grows exponentially in the waters off the coast of Florida,” said Compton.
Venice City Council members sent a letter to the EPA last week expressing their concerns with the offshore project.
“On behalf of its residents, businesses, and visitors, the Venice City Council is very concerned about any activity that may exacerbate naturally occurring cycles of red tide or otherwise degrade water quality and marine wildlife,” wrote Mayor Ron Feinsod in the letter. “Venice respectfully requests that no action be taken on permits, such as the one for Ocean Era, Inc. until sufficient studies and reviews have been completed to ensure the environment will not be negatively impacted,” he wrote.
“The fear of new business like this in federal waters is due to the unknown. We are trying to utilize this demonstration project to provide all of that data we are confirming what we think we know, but we need to confirm it. The validation is going to be in this pilot project,” said Peters. “Above all, we are conservationists. We want to conserve and protect the ocean resources and ocean environment,” he continued.
Peters says Ocean Era has no plans of using antibiotics or pharmaceuticals in the demonstration project. The fish raised in the farm came from Madeira Beach.
“We are housing those fish at Mote’s aquaculture park so we are using the very mother and father fish that breed naturally in the wild and will be breeding those to create the fingerlings, so should a fish escape during a harvest time, it is of the same genetic diversity that already exists in the wild. We have done no genetic modification whatsoever,” explained Peters.
Peters says the permitting for the demonstration is in the finalization process.
“We hope within maybe two months they will be final and we can begin our project,” said the project manager.