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Debate rages over Gulf of Mexico fisheries

BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. — This small city will become the stage for a historic event next week, when fishery officials are expected to decide on a proposal for a new industry that would raise fish in offshore pens far out in the deep, blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

The pending decision by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council has sparked a storm of controversy among academics, sportsmen, scientists, fishing industry groups, and others. The Tampa-based council, in turn, says its goal with the plan is to increase fish yield through creation of an “environmentally sound and economically sustainable aquaculture industry.”

If approved, the plan would permit as many as 20 aquaculture operations to raise fish now available only by catching them in the wild. That would launch the first deep water, offshore fish farm industry in U.S. history. The sites could be located off the coasts of Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana or Texas, raising as much as 64 million pounds of fish annually.

Critics say the plan, as envisioned, is haphazard and could harm wild fish, birds, sharks and other predators, and conceivably sink a Gulf fishing fleet that supports thousands of people.

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