NOAA’s New Aquaculture Policy

84 percent of seafood consumed in the United States is imported and about half of that is sourced from aquaculture. Only five percent of the seafood consumed in the United States comes from domestic aquaculture. In an effort to reduce reliance on imports, NOAA has drafted an aquaculture policy document which is open for public comment.

From the document:

The purpose of this policy is to enable the development of sustainable marine aquaculture within the context of NOAA’s multiple stewardship missions and broader social and economic goals. Meeting this objective will require NOAA to integrate environmental, social, and economic considerations in management decisions concerning aquaculture.

This policy reaffirms that aquaculture is an important component of NOAA’s efforts to maintain healthy and productive marine and coastal ecosystems, protect special marine areas, rebuild overfished wild stocks, restore populations of endangered species, restore and conserve marine and coastal habitat, balance competing uses of the marine environment, create employments and business opportunities in coastal communities, and enable the production of safe and sustainable seafood.

The aquaculture policy will cover not just fish and shellfish, but also aquatic plants, algae, and other marine organisms (but not including marine mammals, like dolphins or seals, or marine birds). It includes the rearing of animals and plants for food as well as for environmental restoration.

Wild fish stocks, even with careful stewardship, are unlikely to meet growing consumer demand. NOAA acknowledges that domestic aquaculture needs to be sustainable in order to remain competitive and that the push towards sustainability is not just from people at the governmental level, but from consumers, too.

NOAA Aquaculture Policy Ideas

To that end, several ideas are put forward in this document to guide NOAA policies in regards to aquaculture. Some seem obvious, but everything needs to be spelled out in a government document.

Sustainable aquaculture should provide domestic jobs, products, and services, while keeping marine ecosystems healthy and protecting wild species. There is a bullet point in Appendix A that reads:

supporting the stocking of only native or naturalized species in federal waters unless best available science demonstrates use of non-native or other species in federal waters would not likely cause undue harm to wild species, habitats, or ecosystems in the event of an escape.

Stocking native species or species that may have been imported in the past but have already reached a balance in the ecosystem is reasonable. If those fish escape โ€“ and fish always escape โ€“ they’re already a part of the habitat. Introducing non-native species is always risky. We can try to predict how a species will behave in a new location, but we’re not always right. How are those Asian carp doing?

Advance scientific knowledge concerning sustainable aquaculture and make timely, unbiased decisions based upon the best science. This includes having the tools and knowledge to monitor, assess, and minimize the adverse environmental effects of aquaculture, and supporting aquaculture innovation and investments to benefit ecosystems and people.

NOAA also mentions finding protein sources other than wild fish, while maintaining the human health benefits of eating the fish. This would be a welcome development and would reduce pressure on wild fish and marine ecosystems.

Monitoring ocean acidification and climate change on marine aquaculture is an important one. Shellfish have trouble forming shells when ocean acidification increases. Since most U.S. aquaculture is focused on raising shellfish for market, climate change could have a significant impact on these fisheries.

Support transparency of the licensing process to both the businesses and the public. Once the businesses have been licensed, monitoring information should be available to the public. Also, advance public understanding of the benefits and challenges of sustainable aquaculture practices.

Finally, NOAA should work with other entities, domestic and international, to share information about best practices. There is a long list of specific government agencies and non-government groups, including especially local communities.

Public Comment on the NOAA Aquaculture Policy

The NOAA aquaculture policy document is eleven pages long and a quick read. Comments are due on the policy by April 11, 2011. Go to the NOAA aquaculture page to comment. The comment form is at the bottom of the page. The forum is public, so you can look at other people’s comments, too.

I don’t want to guide your comments, but if you have time and the inclination, please consider mentioning in your comments the ideas from the document that you like. So often, I hear government officials say there is no public interest in things that we talk about frequently in the green community. We’re the public and this is our chance to be heard.

Image of shellfish by moonlightbulb, used with Creative Commons license.

Image of Asian carp by louisvilleusace, used with Creative Commons license.

Image of lobster by DiveKarma, used with Creative Commons license.

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