Bipartisan support for The Advancing the Quality and Understanding of American Aquaculture (AQUAA) Act, a new bill introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senators Roger Wicker (R-MS), Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), is looking to expand offshore aquaculture in hopes of providing stable economic opportunities for Americans while preserving ecosystems and improving public health. The proposed bill, which has companion legislation in the U.S. House, would support development of an offshore aquaculture industry in the U.S. to increase the production of sustainable seafood and establish new economic opportunities in federal waters.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that more than 80% of the seafood eaten by Americans is imported, as U.S. fishers and aquaculture operations have not been able to keep up with the country’s demand for fish and other seafood.
“Aquaculture is the fastest growing food production sector, but the U.S. lacks a comprehensive, nationwide system for permitting in federal waters,” said Sen. Wicker when announcing the bill. “This deficiency prevents the development of aquaculture farms, leading to more seafood imports. Our legislation would establish national standards for offshore aquaculture, enabling U.S. producers to create jobs and meet the growing demand for fresh, local seafood.”
Bill DiMento, president of Stronger America Through Seafood, said the expansion of domestic offshore aquaculture is a win–win for American communities nationwide. “With our extended coastline, expansive ocean resources, skilled labor force, superior technology, and ample feed sources, the U.S. has the potential to be a global leader for aquaculture production,” he says. “However, our potential will remain untapped unless and until federal action is taken to clarify the permitting process.”
If passed, the AQUAA Act would establish national standards for offshore aquaculture and clarify a regulatory system for the development of aquaculture in the U.S. exclusive economic zone. The legislation would also establish a research and technology grant program to fund innovative research and extension services focused on improving and advancing sustainable domestic aquaculture.
Opponents argue that offshore fish farms compete with commercial fishing interests, could create pollution due to fish waste, and may possibly spread diseases to wild fish populations. Additionally, they would rather congress support sustainable seafood production with local fishermen and businesses.
Among those who came out opposed to offshore aquaculture are the Gulf Fishermen’s Association, the Center for Food Safety, and Healthy Gulf. “Industrial finfish aquaculture facilities harm wild ecosystems … and threaten local fishermen’s livelihoods,” says Rosanna Marie Neil, a policy specialist with Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance, which also opposes the legislation. “Instead of supporting the corporate takeover of our oceans, lawmakers should safeguard the livelihoods of fishermen and coastal residents who are already struggling.”