Aquaculture North America

Nonprofit group challenges U.S. permitting agency for its offshore fish farming policy

November 15, 2023
By Aquaculture North America staff

The Center for Food Safety (CFS) has filed arguments to revoke a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers policy that permits offshore aquaculture in several states. 

The lawsuit aims to have the court declare the nationwide permit unlawful and invalidate the permit. The policy, named Nationwide permit 56authorizes “the installation of cages, net pens, anchors, floats, buoys, and other similar structures into navigable waters of the United States.”

CFS is a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, Calif. that advocates against the harmful effects of industrial farming. In its legal action document, the group alleges that Permit 56 would allow the construction of fish farming facilities in Alaska, California, Oregon, Washington, Florida, Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Hawaii, and Virginia.

The allegations outlined by this group are still before the United States District Court Western District of Washington at Seattle.


Jenny Loda, staff attorney at CFS and counsel for the plaintiffs, said in a press release that the Army Corps admits that offshore industrial aquaculture poses serious risks to water quality, wildlife, and fisheries. 

“What’s more, Congress has not even authorized any federal agency to take this unprecedented step, opening the door to factory farming of the sea, replicating the same problems of land-based factory farms. We are asking the court to set aside this unlawful decision,” Loda said. 

Nationwide permit 56 was issued in March 2021.

Aquaculture news organization, Intrafish, reports that Nationwide permit 56 stems from a May 2020 executive order by then President Donald Trump that is meant to aid aquaculture and seafood self-sufficiency in the country. Offshore aquaculture facilities are approved by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and permitted by the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

CFS represents a coalition of conservation, tribal, and fishing organizations, including the Quinault Indian Nation and Don’t Cage Our Oceans Coalition.

Emma Helverson, executive director of Wild Fish Conservancy, said every U.S. state on the Pacific coast has banned or eliminated commercial open water net pens from state marine waters to prevent the devastating harm to water quality, wild salmon, and the greater health of marine ecosystems. 

“In granting this nationwide permit to expand this industry in federal waters, the Army Corps is ignoring these clear and obvious risks and undermining the efforts of communities throughout the nation working tirelessly to protect their public waters,” Helverson, a plaintiff in the case said.

CFS said the Corps’ lack of adequately assessing impacts on water quality resulting from the facilities’ use of pesticides, pharmaceuticals, toxic chemicals, excess fish feed, dead fish, and fish feces that are directly discharged into surrounding waters. 

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