NOAA selects two regions as potential Aquaculture Opportunity Areas
NOAA Fisheries has announced that federal waters off the coast of Southern California and in the Gulf of Mexico will be the first two regions investigated for future Aquaculture Opportunity Areas in the U.S.
The areas were chosen for initial assement following on an executive order by U.S. President Donald Trump issued with the goal of increasing domestic aquaculture production in the U.S. One part of the order stipulated the identification of “at least two” geographic areas within federal waters that would be suitable for commercial aquaculture within a year of the order.
Those opportunity areas, according to the order, should be areas suitable for commercial aquaculture. Within two years of identifying each area, relevant agencies are tasked with completing environmental impact statements for the areas. The eventual goal is the establishment of 10 Aquaculture Opportunity Areas nationwide by 2025.
The first two areas to be named, according to NOAA Fisheries, were chosen due to the availability of spatial analysis data and current industry interest in the regions.
“Naming these areas is a big step forward,” Assistant Administrator for NOAA Fisheries Chris Oliver said. “The creation of Aquaculture Opportunity Areas will foster the U.S. aquaculture industry as a needed complement to our wild capture fisheries. This type of proactive work creates opportunities for aquaculture farmers and maintains our commitment to environmental stewardship.”
The areas, per the order, are expected to be able to support a variety of aquaculture operations such as finfish, shellfish, and seaweed farms. Now that the two areas have been selected, a “combination of scientific analysis and public engagement” will be used to determine the best spaces within the areas.
"While NOAA has selected the regions for these first Aquaculture Opportunity Areas, the exact locations will be identified based on best-available science, including data-driven siting analyses using hundreds of data layers of ocean conditions and uses,” Acting Assistant Administrator for the National Ocean Service Nicole LeBoeuf said. “Stakeholder input is also essential to ensure the Aquaculture Opportunity Areas are sited in the best locations for aquaculture and to avoid conflicts with other industries or environmental harm."
The size of each area is not predetermined, and will be established through a public process involving stakeholders.
Environmental groups opposed to in-ocean aquaculture immediately reacted to the news.
“The expansion of industrial aquaculture in California and the Gulf of Mexico threatens local fishing communities, ecosystems, and coastal economies,” the Don’t Cage Our Ocean Coalition – with member groups such as Earthjustice, Greenpeace, SalmonState, and Friends of the Earth – stated. “NOAA should protect our wildlife, waters, and all the people who depend on them for their livelihoods and for recreation, rather than paving the way for development of harmful facilities that can pollute wild ecosystems and destroy our already struggling local economies.”
The environmental groups also continued to object to Trump’s order tasking the aquaculture permitting process be streamlined.
“Preventing the public and agencies from taking an important ‘hard look’ at risks and consequences of every new offshore marine finfish aquaculture facility is a big mistake - and raises legal questions,” the coalition stated. “Globally, the industry has been associated with a wide range of problems, and countries like Canada and Denmark are moving away from this form of seafood production. To speed up development of these facilities in the United States without allowing for proper review and discussion will cause widespread damage both ecologically and economically.”
NOAA reiterated that it plans to have public input be part of the initial establishment of the Aquaculture Opportunity Areas.
“Along with the advanced spatial analysis, public input is vital to this process,” NOAA Office of Aquaculture Director Danielle Blacklock said. “In the coming months and years we plan to conduct outreach, requests for information, and listening sessions to allow our stakeholders to share their insights into the creation of these opportunity areas.”
Photo courtesy of NOAA Fisheries