Under final rules released June 30 by the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. fish farms will be allowed to remain largely self-regulating, governed only by a requirement to develop “best management practices.” To food safety and environmental organizations, the phrase “best management practices” is Bush administration code for a hands-off approach to regulating polluting industries. The rule flatly states that it does not set “numeric limits” on the discharge of pollutants, preferring instead to offer only “guidelines” and “standards” for the fish farming industry to regulate itself.
“While the rest of the world is realizing that our oceans are in crisis, the Bush EPA is bowing to business and burying its head in the sand,” said Tracie Letterman of the Center for Food Safety. “Under this toothless rule, fish farms will continue to be able to release huge amounts of waste, drugs and pesticides into our fragile oceans. And non-native species will still be allowed to threaten local fish populations, even those already in serious trouble.”
Furthermore, the rule would do nothing to limit the farming of non-native species even in areas where local populations may be struggling or would be threatened by escaped farmed fish. “One of the axioms in the management of invasive species is that if you bring a non-native species into a new area, it will get out,” added Letterman.
As described by EPA, the rule “establishes effluent limitation guidelines and new source performance standards for specific types of commercial and non-commercial operations that produce aquatic animals for food, recreation and restoration of wild populations, pet trade, and other commercial products. Rather than setting numeric limits, we are requiring best management practices to control the discharge of pollutants in the wastewater from these facilities. We found that it is not necessary to establish pretreatment standards for existing or new facilities.”
By its own admission, the EPA’s new rule would do little to reduce the discharge of the most toxic pollutants, such as metals and PCBs, and would only likely “help” in reducing the output of drugs, pesticides and chemicals: “When these requirements are applied in NPDES permits, they will help reduce discharges of conventional pollutants (mainly Total Suspended Solids), non-conventional pollutants (such as nutrients, drugs and chemicals) and, to a lesser extent, toxic pollutants (metals and PCBs).”
“Without setting hard and fast limits on the discharge of pollutants and without committing to rigorous monitoring, the EPA has failed to defend the public interest,” said Letterman. “After four years of working on these rules, the EPA owes the public a more serious approach to protecting our oceans and our local fish stocks.”