NMFS planning for offshore aquaculture areas

Published on
December 15, 2020

Now in the early stages of planning, NMFS officials are seeking public comments on the potential for “aquaculture opportunity areas” off southern California and the Gulf of Mexico.

It’s an early step in what will be a three-year process to identify those areas and develop “programmatic” environmental impact statements, agency workers said in a online virtual public information session 3 December.

Aquaculture study areas in the Gulf of Mexico extend from southern Florida to Texas.

The California and gulf areas outlined so far by NMFS for study will not entirely become set aside for aquaculture, according to Kristy Beard, a NMFS fishery policy analyst.

“Aquaculture opportunity areas are about spatial analysis and environmental analysis,” Beard said.

The process aims to maximize compatibility of aquaculture with other uses, including wild fisheries, navigation, commercial activities, and military missions, which is why the agency decided to start with the Gulf of Mexico and California, she said. 

There is already a lot of long-existing spatial analysis and environmental data that can be mined and help run the aquaculture planning process, said James Morris, a scientist with the National Oceans Service.

“We’ve worked over the past decade to develop these data sources,” Morris said. “We want to make sure we avoid conflict when possible.”

The resulting “geodatabase” can have as many as 200 data layers, and focus down to 10-acre cells in the map grids, said Morris.

Off California, NMFS is looking at potential areas from Santa Barbara to San Diego; in the Gulf of Mexico, the study will examine a swath from Florida to Texas.

NMFS officials said future aquaculture operations in those areas will be required to meet the usual suite of government review and permitting requirements.

Bill Dewey, the director of public affairs for Seattle, Washington, U.S.A.-based Taylor Shellfish Farms said he appreciated the effort NMFS is undertaking, and hoped it could facilitate permitting for new projects.

Taylor opened some operations in British Columbia “because of permitting challenges here in the United States,” he added.

The agency is accepting written comments until 22 December via its website.

Reporting by Kirk Moore

Image courtesy of NOAA

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