SAN FRANCISCO—Yesterday, Center for Food Safety (CFS) filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) for unlawfully withholding records regarding the Corps' approval of nationwide permit 56—a permit allowing for the placement of finfish aquaculture structures in federal ocean waters around the country. The FOIA lawsuit comes on the heels of CFS and allies' notice of intent to sue the Corps under the Endangered Species Act for failing to consider impacts to threatened and endangered species when it authorized construction of these offshore finfish aquaculture facilities.
"It's time now for the Corps to provide some transparency to the public regarding the first ever nationwide permit for finfish aquaculture in federal waters," said Meredith Stevenson, staff attorney at Center for Food Safety. "Despite the short time span identified in the request, the Corps still has not produced any records."
Eight months after a Trump-era Executive Order pressing for rapid advancement and expansion of marine aquaculture facilities, the Army Corps issued the nationwide permit for construction of industrial finfish aquaculture facilities in state and federal waters. In this short time frame, the Corps skirted much of the required environmental review, including its requirement to ensure that authorization of these facilities does not jeopardize the existence of imperiled species protected under the Endangered Species Act. Rather than thoroughly considering how these industrial fish farms may harm threatened and endangered species, the Corps kicked the can down the road to the project-level, once a facility is proposed. In so doing, the Corps overlooked potential impacts of its nationwide authorization as a whole and the cumulative impacts on endangered species—especially those with vast ranges like endangered whales, sea birds, and sea turtles.
In May 2022, CFS submitted a FOIA request to USACE, seeking documents related to the Corps' approval of this permit. The Corps has yet to produce any records, prompting CFS to now sue under FOIA.
Contrary to claims that farmed fish production will alleviate pressure on wild fish stocks, industrial aquaculture has exacerbated the population declines of wild fish. This will be especially true in offshore aquaculture facilities that farm carnivorous fish, which require a diet often derived from wild-caught fish such as menhaden, mackerel, herring, and anchovies. Industrial aquaculture also releases excess nutrients and toxic chemicals that threaten endangered species, wild fish, and other wildlife. Wild fish like endangered salmon are also at risk when farmed fish inevitably escape from aquaculture facilities and outcompete wild fish for food and mates, and transfer diseases, viruses, and parasites to wild populations.
CFS is committed to ensuring the public has access to information concerning government regulation of food production. CFS's FOIA program is committed to upholding the principles embodied in FOIA, such as maintaining an open and transparent government.
Aquaculture, the farming of fish and seafood, is one of the fastest growing sectors of the global food production industry…