New Federal Fish Farming Rules Encourage Sustainable Aquaculture

The regulations open up federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico for commercial aquaculture operations.

On Monday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) filed the nation’s first rules for fish farming in federal waters.

The regulations open up the Gulf of Mexico for seafood production in a strip of ocean beginning where the state’s jurisdiction leaves off — 3 to 9 miles offshore, depending on the state — and extends to 200 miles offshore.

State waters have been participating in aquaculture for decades — such as oyster, clam, mussel and salmon farms — but until now, commercial farms in federal waters have been largely off-limits.

“As demand for seafood continues to rise, aquaculture presents a tremendous opportunity not only to meet this demand, but also to increase opportunities for the seafood industry and job creation,” said Kathryn Sullivan, NOAA administrator. “Expanding U.S. aquaculture in federal waters complements wild harvest fisheries and supports our efforts to maintain sustainable fisheries and resilient oceans.”

According to the Associated Press, up to 20 fish farms can occupy the Gulf waters and sustainably produce a total of 64 million pounds of seafood, such as red drum, almaco jack and cobia, eventually reducing imports. Permits — issued by NOAA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as well as the Environmental Protection Agency — would initially last 10 years.

In response to environmental concerns, the rules also include safeguards such as a required baseline survey and ongoing monitoring and reporting.

“This is all about managing and expanding seafood farming in an environmentally sound and economically sustainable way,” said Michael Rubino, director of the NOAA Fisheries Office of Aquaculture. “The permit process we’ve laid out accounts for the region’s unique needs and opens the door for other regions to follow suit.”

What potential problems do you see with commercial aquaculture operations in federal waters? What type of oversight should the farms be subject to? Comment below or tweet @MNetKatie.

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