Proposal to Sell Farm-Raised Striped Bass in New Jersey

by John Toth
(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association February 2018 Newsletter)

Farm-raised fish is big business around the world as pressure on fish stocks increases due to more people turning to eat fish as a healthier food. A company, Pacifico Aquaculture, is interested in having farm-raised striped bass sold coming from New Jersey's waters. Scot Mackey, representing Garden State Seafood Assoc., arranged for representatives from Pacifico Aquaculture to make presentations on raising and selling striped bass to New Jersey's Marine Fisheries Council and to our state's DEP. A presentation was given by Pacifico Aquaculture for the selling of striped bass to JCAA staff on September 6th at the JCAA's office in Toms River. The following is a brief summary of this meeting and its key points.

Representatives Rex Ito and his son Matt indicated to JCAA's members (Tom Fote, Paul Haertel, Ken Warchal, Don Marantz and John Toth) that Pacifico Aquaculture farm raises striped bass eight miles off the coast of Ensenada, in Northern Baja California, Mexico. Striped bass fry are grown in their company-owned hatcheries and then moved to pens in the ocean to grow up to market size which typically takes 18-24 months. Mr. Ito, a biologist with an extensive background in the fishing business, explained that these fish are stocked with plenty of room to swim and grow so that they do not crowd together and develop diseases, a big concern with farm-raised fish. He also indicated that the eggs they use are not from hybrid striped bass, but from 6 or 7 strains of striped bass to produce healthy brood stock, including Hudson River striped bass. These fish are sold when they reach 28 inches (about 3 lbs.) and sold in Mexico and in the USA on the west coast. They are gutted and tagged so that their origin can be traced. The feed for these fish comes from Vancouver/Alaska that is basically from fish trimmings like pollock and other fish, and not chicken and less desirable feed scraps, also a big concern with farm-raised fish.

We explained to Mr. Ito and his son that the JCAA was in the forefront of making striped bass a game fish status so that it could not be sold commercially to stop its precipitous decline in stocks. While it is good to have striped bass in stores and on the menu of restaurants, our big concern is that illegally caught striped bass would be sold as farm-raised under the Pacifico brand even though these fish are tagged. Paul Haertel asked "what happens to the tags when they come to a fish purveyor or restaurant - these used tags can be sold or given to anglers to catch illegal striped bass?Ē Mr. Ito did not have an immediate resolution to that issue, but he and Scot Mackey felt confident that this tagging problem can be successfully resolved.

It was also explained to Mr. Ito that New Jersey's legislature would have to be involved in changing its regulations concerning the sale of striped bass, not an overnight process. He responded that he is aware of this challenge and that many other agencies would have to sign off for approvals. (The JCAA was most likely targeted to hear this presentation since it was involved in the game fish status for striped bass). We also told him that many anglers in New Jersey would strongly oppose the sale of striped bass so that we do not go back to the bad old days of their decline. He replied that he encountered the same type of problems in selling striped bass on the west coast, but his perseverance paid off in the long run to make it happen. He is well aware that this commercial venture, if it happens, will take a long time to reach fruition.

As our guests, we graciously thanked Mr. Ito, his son and Scot Mackey for taking the time to visit us. We did NOT give any approval to this sale of striped bass. At our upcoming JCAA General Membership meeting, this issue will be on our agenda.

Note: John Toth wrote this article in October JCAA Newspaper about a Meeting with Pacifico Aquaculture asking about selling Mexican farmed raised striped bass in New Jersey. They asked JCAA couple of weeks ago to print a letter asking for comments and questions from NJ Anglers on their request. They also made a presentation to the NJ Marine Fisheries Council JCAA decided to reprint Johnís article and their letter. This does not mean that JCAA approves the sale of farmed striped bass in New Jersey and JCAA still have not finalized a position on this. This would have to be done by legislation that is why they came to JCAA. So please let us also know your thoughts through your clubs. -Tom Fote
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