A United States court has rejected a proposal to open up the Gulf of Mexico to fish farming.

The US 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans this week blocked a federal permit that would have seen a network of fin-fish farms offshore in the American controlled area of the Gulf. It rejected an argument put forward by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that it had the power to issue aquaculture permits for the Gulf. Only Congress has that power, said the court judges.

The decision thwarts the current administration’s plan, signed by President Trump himself, to expand offshore aquaculture around the US coastline to help boost food security and cut down on the nation’s massive annual seafood import bill. A spokeswoman for the NOAA refused to be drawn on whether the organisation would appeal but did say it would review the verdict. However, businesses keen to start fish farming the Gulf have said the ruling meant there would be just one less permit. It would not stop eventual progress in that area of the US.

The appeal was brought by a number of environmental groups and backed by Gulf fishermen who hailed the decision as a landmark victory in protecting fishing communities, the seas and helping to curtail the expansion of offshore fish farming in the US.

George Kimbrell, legal director of the Centre for Food Safety, one of the plaintiff organizations in the case said:

‘Allowing net-pen aquaculture and its environmental harms in the Gulf of Mexico is a grave threat, and the court properly held the government cannot do so without new and proper congressional authority’.

Opponents continue to argue that aquaculture is not fishing and therefore is not governed by federal or NOAA authority. While offshore permits have been granted in other US states, notably Florida, it is becoming clear that aquaculture companies are likely to face an uphill fight to get expansion plans approved.

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