TWIN FALLS — A nationwide survey looking at the impacts of regulations on trout farmers is only about half completed, but that’s enough to indicate regulations are a burden.

One-third of the 88 respondents, to date, ranked regulation as the number one problem facing their farm. When those who listed it as second are included, regulation accounts for 68 percent of the responses.

“That’s much greater than anything else,” said Carole Engle, who was in Twin Falls for the combined annual meetings of the Idaho Aquaculture Association and U.S. Trout Farmers Association. The organizations are among the funders of a study to explore how much time and money is spent by the industry to comply with local, state and federal regulations.

Engle and her research associate, Jonathan van Senten, are traveling to all the major trout producing states to meet personally with trout farmers to complete the survey. In addition to talking with farmers, the researchers also ask them to share financial information and records submitted to regulatory agencies. All individual data will be averaged across all farms so no single farm can be identified.

Rounding out the top problems identified so far are fish health and labor. While the numbers may change once the survey is closed, Engle believes the trends will hold. And she’s quick to point out that while regulations are a burden, fish farmers support regulations that are good for the environment.

“They don’t want to sell anyone sick fish or put sick fish in the water or harm the environment,” Engle said. “They all agree we need regulations. The problem is how the regulations are enforced.”

As they compile the data, Engle and van Senten are listing each of the permits each trout farmer is required to have. So far, 300 different permits are on that list.

Of the regulations that cause trout farmers the most headaches, water discharge permits and interstate fish health are most often cited.

Aquaculture facilities are considered point source dischargers and must have a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit from the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Idaho has approximately 115 permitted operations including state, federal, tribal and private facilities. NPDES permits include monitoring and reporting requirements. Some local or state agencies require additional permits. Seldom do the agencies coordinate the process so that requirements for one permit would satisfy another.

Engle expected water-related regulations would top the list because water is integral to aquaculture production. But she was somewhat surprised to see that interstate movement/fish health was a close second. But upon closer examination, it shows how a regulation that alone is not burdensome can become a problem when added to other existing regulations.

Aquaculture is included in the new veterinary feed directive. That’s a federal rule that mandates a veterinarian must have a documented relationship with a livestock, poultry or fish producer before writing a prescription for any medicated feed.

Although the Magic Valley is home to many aquaculture facilities, many trout farms in other parts of the country are small and are located in isolated mountain areas. Finding a veterinarian who knows trout and is willing to travel that far to visit the farm can be difficult.

The Lacey Act introduces transportation problems that Engle hadn’t fully appreciated even though she served as the director of the University of Arkansas’s Aquaculture/Fisheries Center before retiring to open a consulting business. Under the Lacey Act it is unlawful to move fish, animal or plant species across state lines in violation of U.S. or Indian law. Aquaculture producers can be found to be in violation if the water used to transport live fish contains an invasive species.

Federal transportation laws that mandate rest periods for truck drivers undoubtedly make roads safer but a 10-hour layover can mean a tanker full of dead fish when moving live fish. Some farmers reported losing markets because of transportation issues.

As difficult as it can be to comply with the regulations, trout farmers don’t always know when rules have been changed. Only one-third of the respondents said they had been notified by an agency of changes made to their permits.

More troubling, to Engle, is that 58 percent of the respondents said they knew someone who had gone out of business due to regulations. That rate mirrors what she saw in a similar study she did for the West Coast shellfish industry.

“The issue is far worse than I thought,” she said. “It’s not just the cost of the regulation, it’s all of it. It’s how the regulations are implemented and that agencies don’t work together.”

“They all agree we need regulations. The problem is how the regulations are enforced.” Carole Engle, fish researcher
Outbrain