A Review of the Potential Environmental Effects of Net Pen Aquaculture in the Northern Gulf of Mexico

This report reviews the environmental and social concerns associated with net pen aquaculture in coastal waters, identifies potentially significant impacts of operations in the northern Gulf of Mexico, and proposes site selection and planning guidelines. There are 5 major areas of potential environmental concern: water quality alterations and their consequences, sedimentation and benthic effects, chemical usage, disease transmission, and escaped fish (exotic species, genetic impacts). Social concerns focus on conflicts between net pen operations and navigation interests, commercial fishermen, recreational users, waterfront property owners, and conservation interests. Environmental impacts are minimized by selecting sites with adequate water exchange and waste assimilation capacity. Zoning to exclude or limit aquaculture (facility size, spacing, materials, feed type, etc.) in waters important to traditional marine resource user groups has been successful in reducing conflicts. This planning effort requires detailed information on physical and chemical processes, biological resources, and patterns of resource use in coastal and marine waters. Until such plans are developed, net pen aquaculture permits should be evaluated on a site specific, case by case basis.

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