Experts tell Senate committee regulatory process hinders US aquaculture

America’s aquaculture industry took center stage at a United States Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing Tuesday, 30 January.

Lawmakers discussed no specific bill during the hearing. However, they heard from four experts about opportunities to grow aquaculture, the challenges they face, and the economic impact.

One of the major challenges discussed was the regulatory procedures that often keep fish farming ventures from starting. It’s a major obstacle for a country that leads the world in farmed food production.

Donald Kent, president and CEO of the Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute, spoke of efforts to get a small farm established in southern California. The institute has worked for more than 10 years to get the farm operational but a lack of leadership has kept that from happening as neither the Army Corps of Engineers nor the Environmental Protection Agency have been willing to take the lead on the effort.

“This one farm, while using less than a square kilometer of open ocean surface area, would produce five times more seafood than all the commercially harvested seafood in San Diego County while supporting 70 direct farm jobs as well as additional 200 or more indirect jobs,” Kent said. “The problem is not a lack of regulatory process, but rather the lack of federal leadership to manage that process.”

Committee Chairman Sen. John Thune noted that the red tape and the numerous agencies that get involved scare off entrepreneurs. Because of that, the United States is forced to import 90 percent of its seafood despite its vast coastlines and the size of its exclusive economic zone.

“The United States is a global leader in how to manage wild-caught fisheries, but we regularly send our expertise, our innovation, and our dollars overseas when it comes to aquaculture,” said Thune, a Republican from South Dakota. “Rather than buying seafood from a global market that has seen repeated instances of labor and environmental violations, we should do a better job at home.  It’s time we straighten our byzantine permitting regime and start growing some more fish.”

Barton Seaver, a former chef and now the director of the Sustainable Seafood and Health Initiative at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School for Public Health, said that aquaculture could be the key to a couple issues facing the country. One, increased aquaculture could lead to higher fish consumption, which would lead to a healthier population 

In addition, it also could spur younger people to get involved in an industry that’s struggling to find new workers, Seaver said.

“The committee holds this hearing at a unique moment because we have the opportunity to be architects of a substantial new economy,” Seaver said. “A thoughtful and inclusive approach to regulating aquaculture will set in motion a compelling American success story. I ask this committee to set regulations that are oriented to and governed by regional knowledge.”


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