SEAfood Act: U.S. offshore aquaculture to be sustainable and science-based

Norway is a pioneer in offshore aquaculture. Pictured: Ocean Farm 1 of SalMar Aker Ocean, the world's first offshore salmon farm. Photo: SalMar.
Norway is a pioneer in offshore aquaculture. Pictured: Ocean Farm 1 of SalMar Aker Ocean, the world's first offshore salmon farm. Photo: SalMar.

California's 47th District Congressman Alan Lowenthal introduced late last week the SEAfood Act, a bill that aims to make U.S. offshore aquaculture sustainable and science-based. According to the release issued by his office, this is bipartisan legislation intended to close knowledge gaps, facilitate studies to inform future regulations and ensure that any potential U.S. aquaculture sets a new standard that is truly sustainable. "If the U.S. is to develop thriving and sustainable offshore aquaculture, then it is imperative that we do so in a science-based and science-directed way", he stated.

Building out a knowledge base

The SEAfood Act came a week after the scientific journal Marine Policy published a report stating that more research and data are needed to establish regulatory standards to guide the next steps for offshore aquaculture in U.S. federal waters. The report noted that offshore aquaculture continues to grow in the United States and that regulators questioned what the appropriate framework for its development should be.

Rod Fujita, a Senior Scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and lead author of the report, recalled at the time that to do so was not starting from scratch. "There are many lessons from nearshore aquaculture practices and existing offshore pilot projects that we can apply to offshore aquaculture", he said then. Congressman Lowenthal agrees. "We must build out our knowledge base on both the problems that currently exist and the solutions potentially available", he claimed. "The SEAfood Act puts us on the path toward increasing our understanding of both".

Best for communities and environment

Congresswoman Nancy Mace, a representative of South Carolina's Lowcountry, has spoken along the same lines. "This legislation ensures thoughtful development in the right places to drive economic opportunities for coastal communities. It also protects natural, cultural, and historic resources which must always be preserved. And above all, it means working with Federal agencies, State Agencies, and local stakeholders to make decisions that are best for our communities and our environment", she said. "The SEAfood Act is a historic effort which captures both the spirit and innovative nature of the Lowcountry's passion for aquaculture", she added.

Alan Lowenthal, California's 47th District Congressman and leading environmental advocate. Photo: U.S. Federal Government.

The support of the openly conservative Congresswoman Mace is a good indication that, as mentioned, this is bipartisan legislation. Lowenthal, a Democrat, is well-known for being a leading environmental advocate and the SEAfood Act may be his last contribution to that cause, as he will be retiring at the end of the current term after holding public office for nearly 30 years. Nevertheless, in addition to the aforementioned Nancy Mace (South Carolina Lowcountry), Lowenthal's bill is also co-sponsored by Congresswomen Julia Brownley (California 47th District) and Chellie Pingree (Maine 1st District). Moreover, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has introduced a similar bill in the Senate.

Guidelines of the bill

Among the things the SEAfood Act directs, the first highlighted by Lowental's office is that, within two years, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) shall submit a report examining lessons learned in aquaculture permitting, monitoring, and regulation in the 15 years since the publication of GAO's 2008 offshore aquaculture assessment. In addition, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine shall conduct a study to develop the scientific basis for efficient and effective permitting and regulation of offshore aquaculture in U.S. federal waters.

Lowenthal's bill also makes a two-fold request of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). First, it directs it to establish a program "to minimize impacts on marine environments, prevent adverse impacts on wildlife, interface with existing uses of offshore waters, and withstand offshore ocean conditions – particularly in high-energy or inclement weather". It goes on to urge it to issue grants to minority-serving institutions, Tribal colleges and universities, and historically Black colleges and universities to establish Aquaculture Centers of Excellence and help develop aquaculture curricula for undergraduate and graduate students.

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