US Commerce Department eyes aquaculture for job creation

Bolstering the U.S. seafood industry has been a major priority for Wilbur Ross since he became the Secretary of Commerce under U.S. President Donald Trump last year.

In speeches, he’s talked frequently of reducing the seafood trade deficit in a country where 90 percent of the fish consumed comes from foreign markets. One way he and other Commerce Department officials want to make that happen is through increasing seafood production, with aquaculture existing as a key component in that strategy.

“A strong U.S. marine aquaculture industry will serve a key role in U.S. food security and improve our trade balance with other nations,” the department said in its recent 2018-2022 Strategic Report, which focuses on increasing opportunities for aquaculture as a job creation strategy. 

Aquaculture in America has floundered while the industry has boomed elsewhere. In 2015, more than 106 million metric tons of seafood were produced in marine farms. However, the U.S. accounted for just 0.4 percent of that total.

One of the reasons for that has been the regulatory process for approving fish farms in federal waters. Often aquaculture projects have been stalled because they’ve required permits from various agencies, such as the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Commerce Department wants to see a “one-stop shop” set up for the permitting process, and a bill filed earlier this year by U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker would make the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a Commerce agency that oversees the fishing industry, the lead agency for that process.

Additionally, the Commerce Department wants to partner with industry partners to conduct research in aquaculture, particularly for demonstration projects.

“These pilot programs will facilitate the commercial viability of marine aquaculture production,” the report stated. NOAA Fisheries “will use aquaculture research to remove production bottlenecks related to siting, disease, genetics and genomics, hatchery seed stock, and feed availability.”

Supporting aquaculture isn’t the only way Commerce officials are looking to boost domestic seafood production. Another way they propose to do that is by finding ways to maximize the value of American fisheries.

“NOAA will ensure that fisheries and their habitats are managed to optimize sustainable commercial harvest and recreational opportunities while conserving marine resources for future generations,” the report states. “We will ensure U.S. fishermen are not disadvantaged by illegal or unregulated fishing, unfair trade practices by other nations, or deceptive labeling of seafood products.”


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