U.S. lawmakers will once again consider the future of offshore aquaculture in American waters, following the reintroduction on June 7 of the bipartisan AQUAA Act, “Advancing the Quality and Understanding of American Aquaculture“.
Led by U.S. Senators Roger Wicker (Republican, Mississippi) and Brian Schatz (Democrat, Hawaii), the bill proposes making the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as the lead federal agency for marine aquaculture.
Furthermore, the proposed legislation would see NOAA harmonizing the permits system for offshore aquaculture in federal waters, as well as leading a research and development funding program to spur industry innovation.
Lack of federal system holding U.S. aquaculture back, says Wicker
“The aquaculture industry is growing rapidly, but the lack of a national permitting system for federal waters has held back development and prevented American producers from growing more seafood at home,” Wicker said, announcing the bill.
“This legislation would establish comprehensive standards for offshore aquaculture, helping U.S. producers meet the growing demand for fresh, locally-sourced seafood.”
Hawaii’s aquaculture industry and long native tradition of seafood cultivation are a key motivation behind the AQUAA Act for Senator Schatz, who noted that the island state produced over $80 million worth of finfish, shellfish, and algae in 2019.
“At the same time, the movement to restore native Hawaiian fishponds such as those at He‘eia and Maunalua continues to develop momentum. This bipartisan bill would increase federal support for both,” said Schatz. “I thank Senator Wicker for his partnership, and look forward to working with him to pass this groundbreaking legislation.”
AQUAA legislation would bring “certainty and clarity”
The Senators argue that the AQUAA bill would “uphold existing environmental standards while providing regulatory certainty and clarity to the industry”. It would also, they say, include “a set of national standards to guide development of offshore aquaculture and aquaculture management plans that implement those standards on a regional scale.”
The bill also proposes establishing a national plan to identify and establish areas which are optimal for aquaculture development. The proposed legislation has been referred for further consideration by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, of which the AQUAA Act’s co-leader Senator Schatz is a member.
The proposed legislation follows recent news that NOAA is working to identify new Aquaculture Opportunity Areas (AOAs) in Alaska, California and the Gulf of Mexico.
Aquaculture still a hotly-contested topic in U.S. politics
However, the AQUAA bill faces strong opposition, from both environmental campaigners and wild fishing industry representatives alike. One of the most vociferous opponents to aquaculture developments in the U.S. is anti-offshore finfish aquaculture coalition “Don’t Cage Our Oceans”, which is active in lobbying against against establishing new fish farming sites on grounds of possible pollution and other environmental impacts.
Previous iterations of the AQUAA bill have been brought unsuccessfully before both the U.S. Congress and U.S. Senate. The last time the Act was brought for consideration by the Senate was in 2021, supported by Wicker, Hatch and Florida Republican senator Marco Rubio.