Congress must fish or cut the bait on marine aquaculture
Most of the seafood Americans eat are farm-raised shrimp and salmon, as well as canned tuna – often from the other side of the world. The United States, which is the world’s largest importer of fish, imports 70 to 85 percent of its seafood products at a cost of $22 billion, resulting in a trade deficit of $17 billion.
One way to change this dynamic is to increase our fish production. The supply of wild fish has remained stable over the past three decades, but aquaculture is the fastest growing form of food production in the world. The United States has a tiny share of the global market and is ranked 18th in the world. The development of a more robust marine aquaculture industry would increase the supply of domestic fresh fish; contribute to reducing the trade deficit in seafood products; provide a product grown to higher environmental standards; and create jobs in coastal communities.
The AQUAA Act (Advancing the Quality and Understanding of American Aquaculture), presented to Congress at the end of 2021, is a key element of this 21st century industry. Versions of this bill have been circulating in Congress since 2018. Previous aquaculture bills have failed in 2005, 2007, 2009, and 2011. It’s time to fish or cut the bait — and start the debate on a bipartisan bill that could shed some light on a contentious issue the United States must resolve.
The National Aquaculture Act of 1980 established aquaculture as a national policy priority for the United States. But this policy, largely focused on freshwater farming, has not evolved to keep pace with developments in aquaculture over the past 42 years, particularly the boom in marine resources. aquaculture (mariculture). In contrast, the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA), which governs wild fishing, was signed into law in 1976 and amended in 1996 and 2007. The MSA has established the United States as a world leader and a model of responsible fisheries management. savage.
I consider the AQUAA Act a long-awaited companion to the MSA. The United States, with more ocean territory than any other country in the world except France, has a great opportunity to build on its reputation for fisheries management and become a world leader in responsible ocean aquaculture.
Aquaculture on land and up to three miles offshore is managed by the states in conjunction with federal agencies. Aquaculture in federal waters – 3 to 200 miles off the coast – is permitted, but almost no projects have been authorized. This is largely due to complex and cumbersome application and regulatory processes and the lack of a rental provision necessary to attract investment. Lawsuits from wild fishers and environmental groups have also slowed the clearance process.
The AQUAA Act directs the Department of Commerce to establish an Office of Offshore Aquaculture within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries to coordinate regulatory and scientific matters. The bill aims to maintain existing environmental standards and identify areas particularly suitable for aquaculture. Notably, the bill would grant successful applicants a 25-year license for “sea aquaculture to be conducted in an Aquaculture Opportunity Area,” although that language is somewhat vague and should be strengthened.
Critics say the bill would allow “industrial” farming with deleterious environmental effects and negative impacts on native wild stocks. Some say this would lead to a privatization of the sea by granting long-term tenure of the ocean area to individuals or corporations. Others say that a new law is not necessary and that the current federal regulations are sufficient. Proponents say the bill would create jobs, put the United States in a leadership position in a vibrant industry, reduce the seafood trade deficit and rebuild local and regional fish distribution systems – a boon for wild and farmed fish.
The Senate bill was referred to the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. A related House bill was referred to the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Shipping. There’s a lot to talk about, so let’s start talking.
Nicholas P. Sullivan is a Senior Fellow at the Maritime Studies Program and Senior Fellow at the Council on Emerging Market Enterprises, both at the Fletcher School at Tufts University. Sullivan is the author of “The Blue Revolution: Hunting, Harvesting and Growing Seafood in the Information Age.”