NOAA publishes final rule for offshore U.S. aquaculture

January 12, 2016

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has filed a final rule implementing the United States’ first comprehensive regulatory program for aquaculture in federal waters. The rule creates a coordinated permitting system for the Gulf of Mexico, opening the door for the region to expand seafood production and create new jobs in an environmentally sustainable manner.

“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.”

Aquaculture is the practice of raising marine species in controlled environments. In the United States, federal waters begin where state jurisdiction ends and extend out to 200 miles offshore. In this case, federal waters begin three nautical miles off Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama and nine nautical miles off Texas and the west coast of Florida. The new rule, which takes into account thousands of public comments, authorizes NOAA Fisheries to issue permits to grow species such as red drum, cobia, and almaco jack in federal waters in the Gulf for an initial period of 10 years.

The permit process includes safeguards to ensure healthy oceans and coasts and considers other uses of ocean space, such as fishing. The rule implements environmental safeguards, including a baseline survey, monitoring, and reporting requirements. In addition to a NOAA permit, farming fish in federal waters also requires permits from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. NOAA Fisheries is working with these agencies to set up a coordinated permitting process for the Gulf.

While U.S. aquaculture currently accounts for 20% of the value of domestic fishery landings, U.S. production still lags behind much of the world despite representing a significant opportunity for coastal communities and domestic seafood production capacity. The purpose of this final rule is to increase the yield of federal fisheries in the Gulf by supplementing the harvest of wild caught species with cultured product.

Final rule

Press release