the film
Commentaries and editorials

George W. Bush,
the Accidental Environmentalist

by Patrick McGann
Lewiston Tribune, January 29, 2005

Sometimes it's hard to tell the environmentalists from the resource wreckers. Take salmon farming, for example. It's not so easy being green.

The Bush administration wants to quintuple the amount of salmon produced by American fish farms over the next two decades. Salmon farming is already a multibillion-dollar industry. In two decades, the industry has gone from a few experiments on the central Oregon coast to 4,000 farms.

It is the fastest growing segment of American agriculture.

And that's got environmentalist knickers in a twist.

Salmon farms are not the cleanest of businesses. They have a lot of the same problems as beef feedlots, plus some. Excess feed and fecal matter sift to the bottom below net pens. They become breeding grounds for sea lice that can attack wild salmon. There have been problems with PCBs, dioxins and other pollutants in the feed that make it into the fish.

But they have one huge positive. They take harvest pressure off wild fish, which is already too high and growing. And environmentalists don't seem to have an answer for that.

Gerry Leape of the National Environmental Trust gave a typical environmental view: "The oceans are in crisis, and what's (the U.S. government's) response? To allow the enormous expansion of this industry that's proven to have a negative environmental impact."

The oceans are in a crisis because of global overharvest. That's why market hunting was stopped on game animals. Free-roaming wildlife cannot survive the commercial pressure that exists today. And the same goes for fish. Farming -- environmentally responsible farming -- is the only answer.

In the last few years, fish farms have made extraordinary progress, partly voluntarily and partly by court order. They rotate pen locations, have virtually eliminated escapes, use shellfish farms to attack bacteria and have made advances in feed.

There is still a long way to go. Part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's efforts to encourage salmon farming is directed at these problems.

That's smart. And it's good news for the oceans and for the people who live on salmon streams.

The Bush administration is not encouraging fish farming out of environmental concern. It is responding to a trade balance problem as well as economic and nutritional reality. It may be accidentally green, but that's good enough.

Related Pages:
Not So Green by Brendan O'Neill, Lewiston Tribune, 2/17/5

Patrick McGann
George W. Bush, the Accidental Environmentalist
Lewiston Tribune, January 29, 2005

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