Paving the way for marine aquaculture

A CRS report finds that offshore aquaculture can boost economic growth if licensing reform takes place.

The world is increasingly hungry for fish. Consumption of fish has outmoded population growth, but the volume of ocean fishing has stayed relatively flat for three decades. Fish farming — or fish farming– made the difference, with a production exceeding double between 1997 and 2019. Today, aquaculture provides about half of the world’s seafood.

This growth is not the trend in the United States, which relies instead on imports for more than 80 percent of the seafood consumed by its population. According to a report speak Congress Research Service (CRS), aquaculture production could increase significantly in the United States. But to do so, Congress will need to reform the national oceans licensing system, CRS. concludes.

In addition, the Congress To has not authorized any federal agency to license offshore aquaculture facilities. Agencies ranging from the US Army Corps of Engineers, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the US Environmental Protection Agency regulate each of the parties the aquaculture licensing process. The Magnuson Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act (MSA) regulates offshore fishing in general, but not offshore aquaculture facilities in particular. Yet the NMFS has claims single offshore aquaculture management authority under the MSA based on the use of the term “fishery” in law.

Case law added more uncertainty to the future of the offshore aquaculture industry in 2018, when a federal court overturned the NMFS interpretation of the MSA in Gulf Fisherman’s Association v. National Marine Fisheries Service. The court ruled that NMFS “outmoded its authority ”under the MSA in trying to regulate aquaculture in the Gulf of Mexico. Like the CRS Remarks, leaving regulatory authority for offshore aquaculture to regional councils rather than a federal agency could allow those regional councils to impose conflicting or contradictory license requirements.

Like the CRS Remarks, offshore aquaculture invoices were introduced in Congress five times since 2005, but none have been enacted. The Advancing the Quality and Understanding of U.S. Aquaculture Law (AQUAA), reintroduced in 2020, reportedly asked the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to “coordinate regulatory, scientific, outreach and international issues related to aquaculture.” But Congress never voted on AQUAA, so potential offshore aquaculture developers face a tangle of regulations. together by at least six different federal agencies.

CRS also discuss the red tape that federal environmental requirements place on the offshore aquaculture licensing process. The National Environmental Policy Act, for example, requires federal agencies to review the environmental impact of proposed offshore aquaculture facilities. The NMFS must also review project proposals, such as those for offshore aquaculture facilities, which may “affect marine mammals or threatened and endangered species”.

The opponents of offshore aquaculture underline the importance of federal environmental protection and Argue that unused feed and fish waste can degrade both the quality of the surrounding waters and the seabed under the nets of deep-sea fishing. High fish densities and poor water circulation can also cause eutrophication—Concentrations of nutrients reaching toxic levels in water. Supporters of aquaculture at sea to counter that open ocean waters are more likely to dissipate fish waste than calmer coastal waters.

Opponents of marine aquaculture have also report that aquaculture in the United States has struggled to compete with better and cheaper imports from Norway, Chile and Canada. These adversaries combat that foreign aquaculture producers are more competitive than US producers because they are subject to less restrictive environmental or labor regulations than domestic producers. But the CRS shows that trade protections, such as tariffs and quotas, could allow the offshore aquaculture industry to compete with foreign producers.

The fishermen too to oppose offshore aquaculture because they perceive it as a threat to their livelihoods. The SRC find, however, that investment in offshore aquaculture could also benefit the traditional fishing industry. Not only could a strong offshore aquaculture industry to restart economically disadvantaged coastal areas, but it could also encourage investment in the same docks, cold stores and processing facilities that fishermen depend on.

The SRC maintains that a regulatory framework for marine aquaculture should give statutory and leasing authority to a single federal agency while coordinating with other federal agencies throughout the licensing process. Such a framework could accelerate the authorization process and promote greater transparency and input from stakeholders.

Otherwise, the CRS concludes that the development of marine aquaculture in the United States seems unlikely.

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