Open-ocean aquaculture bill introduced

U.S. Rep Lois Capps (D-Calif.) on Wednesday introduced legislation that would create national standards governing open-ocean aquaculture in U.S. waters.

The bill comes more than three months after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration unveiled its intent to establish a regulatory framework for open-ocean aquaculture, designed to simplify and accelerate the permitting process and protect the environment. Earlier this year, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council voted to allow open-ocean aquaculture and establish a permitting process to farm fish in the Gulf.

Capps said her bill, the National Sustainable Offshore Aquaculture Act, would negate the regulatory framework approved by the council and balance environmental, social and economic concerns.

“I believe that by working together we can create a common sense framework that ensures that offshore aquaculture development proceeds in an ecologically sustainable fashion,” she said. “We have a good model for doing this in California, which recently enacted landmark legislation on this topic. I believe this type of balanced, comprehensive and precautionary approach will work in California, and my legislation seeks to accomplish similar goals at the national level.”

Capps also said that her bill would integrate open-ocean aquaculture development into the nation’s ocean policy, including the Obama administration’s move toward ecosystem-based management and marine-spatial planning.

Environmental NGO Ocean Conservancy applauded Capps’ bill.

“It’s time to set a standard for open-ocean aquaculture, and the National Sustainable Offshore Aquaculture Act is an important step. The legislation offers a science-based precautionary approach including overarching environmental, socioeconomic and liability standards,” said George Leonard, Ocean Conservancy’s aquaculture program director. “We need a strong national framework for marine aquaculture before expansion occurs in our federal ocean waters.”

Supporters of NOAA’s plan contend that open-ocean aquaculture will take pressure off of wild fish stocks, create jobs for fishermen and reduce the country’s dependence on imported seafood (roughly 85 percent of the U.S. seafood supply is imported).

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