zebra fish in California

Wing, Kate kwing at nrdc.org
Mon Aug 12 17:26:35 EST 2002

I am concerned about the response in the research community to 
our efforts on transgenic fish in California. It has never been our 
intention to prohibit laboratory research on transgenic fish. We 
have focused on aquaculture facilities, where the production of 
large number of transgenic fish could pose a threat to native fish 
populations if the facilities did not have proper containment 
measures in place.  

At the beginning of this year, when we first drafted California SB 
1525, we asked the University of California to review the bill to 
make sure research institutions would be covered by the research 
exemption in the bill. UC approved that language. We went back to 
researchers and aqauculturists to work on the definition of 
"transgenic" so that it would be very narrow and not include any 
and all genetic modification procedures. Eventually, the bill was 
revised so that instead of a ban it was a 2 year moratorium on 
permitting aquaculturists to raise these fish until DFG had the 
chance to review existing regulations and see if they were 
sufficient. This is the concept we are presenting to the California 
Fish & Game Commission at the end of August. The bill itself is no 
longer moving.  

Under California law, the Fish & Game Commission has the 
authority to regulate which species a registered aquaculturist may 
raise. To the best of our knowledge--and we have contacted and 
been contacted by many folks in fish genetics--no registered 
aquaculturists are currently raising transgenic fish, and very few 
research facilities working with transgenic fish are registered 
aquaculturists. If the Fish & Game Commission adopts this 
moratorium it would only continue their current course of action, as 
they have never approved a transgenic fish in the past.  

This proposed moratorium does not extend the jurisdiction of the 
Fish & Game Commission to any research where they have not 
previously issued permits. It is true that we are concerned about 
the large-scale production of transgenic zebrafish, or other 
ornamentals, in open facilities. California law is unclear on that 
issue right now, and some have interpreted this to mean that you 
can raise any fish you want however you want as long as it is not 
for food. I think it is only appropriate for the Fish & Game 
Commission to consider this discrepancy in the law and make 
recommendations to the state legislature about how to address it. 
Until the laws are changed, however, zebrafish raised in closed 
systems are not considered aquaculture.  

We will have the opportunity to craft the wording of the moratorium 
on August 29-30, when the Commission considers it. If there are 
things we can do to alleviate the concerns of researchers, please 
let me know so that I can try and address them.  

Thank you,

Kate Wing
Kate Wing
Ocean Program
71 Stevenson St., Suite 1825
San Francisco, CA  94105

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