Administration Sends Aquaculture Legislation to Congress

The Fish Site
by The Fish Site
15 March 2007, at 12:00am

ELLSWORTH The federal government is renewing its biennial effort to get into the ocean aquaculture business.

On Monday, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez announced that the Bush administration had sent Congress proposed legislation designed to give the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) authority to promote and regulate aquaculture in waters comprising the nation’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Described as “federal waters” for fisheries management purposes, the EEZ extends from 3 to 200 miles offshore and, according to NOAA, encompasses some 3.4 million square miles of ocean.

The new bill is a revised version of legislation the administration submitted in 2005 that Congress failed to act on. The revisions address several concerns raised by environmentalists and potential offshore aquaculture investors about the original bill.

Currently, there are no offshore aquaculture operations in federal waters. A handful of pilot projects, raising both shellfish and finfish such as cod, Pacific threadfin, and cobia and are in operation at open ocean sites in nearshore waters off Hawaii, New Hampshire and Puerto Rico.

The proposed legislation gives the secretary of commerce authority to issue permits for aquaculture operations in the EEZ. Permits would run for up to 20 years, would be transferable, and, under certain conditions, could be held by foreign entities. Much like Maine aquaculture leases, the permits would regulate the location of the operation, what species could be raised, and the type of production system to be used. The law also gives the secretary, acting through the NOAA, authority to exempt permitted aquaculture operations from fisheries management regulations relating to such issues as minimum and maximum fish size, closed seasons and the like.

The new aquaculture bill differs from the prior bill in a number of ways. One change would give states the power to block offshore aquaculture within 12 miles of their coastlines. Other changes require that new regulations must establish environmental monitoring standards, and that the processes for the offshore operations, and that the permit process be established through formal, public rulemaking incorporating consultation with regional fisheries management councils and preparation of a full environmental assessment that meets the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Source: Ellsworth Maine