Aquaculture supporters send letter to Congress

More than 120 seafood industry leaders and other aquaculture proponents have signed on to a letter that was sent to members of Congress on Wednesday, 6 February, urging federal lawmakers to open up opportunities for offshore fish farming.

The letter, sent to legislators by Stronger America Through Seafood, said House and Senate members plan to reintroduce updated versions of the Advancing the Quality and Understanding of American Aquaculture (AQUAA) Act. The bills would streamline the permitting process for aquaculture initiatives based in the U.S. exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

“It is time for the U.S. to get into the aquaculture game and provide new local sources of sustainable seafood for consumers,” the letter said. “We can do it here, we can do it right and we can do it [now].”

The letter also said the country risks missing out on getting a piece of the growing aquaculture industry, which researchers believe will continue to grow. According to Beyhan de Jong, a Rabobank researcher, the industry produced USD 232 billion (EUR 204.8 billion) in goods in 2016. It stands to grow by another USD 100 billion (EUR 88.3 billion) in less than a decade. 

Advocates claim if the U.S doubled its production to one million tons, it could create an additional 50,000 jobs for the seafood industry.

Despite having the world’s second largest EEZ, the U.S. ranks sixteenth in global aquaculture production, namely – aquaculture proponents claim – because of the multiple federal agencies involved in the permitting process. 

That’s one of the reasons why Bill Taylor, a vice president at Taylor Shellfish Farms, signed the letter, according to Bill Dewey, the director of public affairs for the aquaculture company in Washington state.

Taylor Shellfish Farms, whose projects are based in near-shore areas, wouldn't benefit from all aspects of the bill since the company isn't looking to expand into the EEZ. However, the bill does include opportunities for additional research that could benefit near-shore aquaculture initiatives. The streamlining of the federal permitting process also would help the company as it looks to expand.

While it still has farms in Washington, Dewey told SeafoodSource that the lack of cooperation between local, state, and federal officials in the past made the company build additional farms in British Columbia, Canada. Some of those issues are being addressed in the state, but the AQUAA Act would help as well.

“Our hand was forced there because we weren’t able to grow our business in Washington,” Dewey said.

Other signatories include representatives from animal feed-maker Cargill, restaurant chain Red Lobster, aquaculture companies, researchers and former NOAA Fisheries officials. Besides the economic impact, the supporters add that current technology makes the practice safer and environmentally friendly.

While there are a number of industry leaders who support the AQUAA Act, others in the fishing community and some environmental nonprofits have questions about the bill. 

In December, Friends of the Earth delivered a letter urging lawmakers not to approve in-pen aquaculture projects because it could harm existing fisheries. They also worry that the farms would produce lower-quality fish. 

Last July, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) filed the first AQUAA Act bill. Two months later, U.S. Reps. Steve Palazzo (R-Mississippi) and Collin Peterson (D-Minnesota) filed a companion bill in the House. Those proposals, however, died when Congress’ term ended at the beginning of January, requiring the lawmakers to refile the bills.

According to Stronger America Through Seafood, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) will also sign on as a sponsor.


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