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Sustainable, land-based fish farms in Colorado

posted May 7, 2010, 2:30 PM by JD Sawyer

By Marianne Cufone

Posted: 05/06/2010 01:00:00 AM MDT
Updated: 05/06/2010 09:11:31 AM MDT

There are few glimmers of economic good news these days, but here in Denver, we are seeing at least one hopeful trend. Recently, several Denver small businesses and nonprofits have begun developing sustainable land-based fish farms - known as aquaponic operations - that would produce fresh, local seafood while providing jobs and boosting Denvers economy.

This innovative effort is threatened by a bill pending in Congress (House Resolution 4363) that would, for the first time, allow the development of industrial-scale factory fish farms in U.S. federal waters. Denver Congresswoman Diana DeGette will have the opportunity to vote against this bill when it comes before the House Insular Affairs Committee.

We may be far from the coast here in Colorado, but a bill allowing offshore factory fish farms would impact both our health and our wallets. It would bring low-quality fish to our supermarkets and would unfairly subsidize corporate fish farming - undermining small-scale, sustainable, local efforts to produce and provide healthy farmed fish to the Denver community.

The fish produced in factory fish farms (also known as ocean aquaculture operations) can be less healthy and less safe for consumers. The reason? Factory fish farming usually takes place in floating or submerged cages in the open ocean, where chemicals like antibiotics and pesticides are often used to treat the diseases that plague the fish in their cramped pens. The chemical residues that remain in the fish can affect the consumers that eat them, provoking unexpected allergic reactions and other health problems.

In addition to the threat they pose to our health, large-scale ocean fish farms threaten our local economy. Fish from offshore factory farms may undercut demand for fish from the local, land-based aquaponic operations that are starting to get off the ground in Denver. Before leaving our community, for example, each dollar spent at a locally owned business will recirculate at least three times more then each dollar spent on non-local commercial food. This concentration of economic activity facilitates spending by other local businesses, helps employ more people, and generates local tax revenues. The Mile High Business Alliance, the Denver-based network of locally owned businesses, strongly supports this practice by encouraging the growth of innovative new businesses (such as aquaponic operations) that fulfill community needs (such as food) while building local economic capacities.

Groups like Growhaus, in consultation with Blue and Yellow Logic, have developed the aquaponic operations that can benefit our community several times over. These operations can produce fresh, healthy seafood (even in low income, urban areas that otherwise might not have access to nutritious food), and create much-needed jobs. The fish produced in these systems will also naturally fertilize a variety of fruits and vegetables that can be grown alongside them, giving our community access to fresh produce. In turn, the fruits and vegetables help to purify the water, which is then reused, conserving our water resources.

As Denver Councilwoman Judy Montero said, building these sustainable systems in Denver would put the city "at the cutting edge of one of the only growing industries in our challenged economy."

There is energy in Denver to develop smart, visionary ways to provide our city with fresh and healthy seafood as well as new jobs. To keep Denver on this path, and to keep a clean conscience about the food we eat, we must keep factory farms out of our oceans. Congresswoman DeGette will have the chance to support the Denver economy and local consumers by voting against the Capps bill later this spring. She, her congressional colleagues, and the city of Denver should support local land-based systems, not ocean-based factory fish farms.