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Offshore fish farming gold mine or black hole?

US - National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) officials say the time is ripe for the United States to become a leader in global aquaculture production.

Off shore aquaculture operations use large submerged cages to grow fish. In this photo, an AquaPod cage at Snapperfarm in Puerto Rico sits on the sea surface for cleaning and inspection. (NOAA)

William Hogarth, director of NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, told the audience at an aquaculture summit held this summer in Washington, DC that although "a good niche fishery" for wild fish will always exist, "the age of aquaculture is upon us."

At NOAA's request, US Representative Nick Rahall (D-West Virginia) and Senators Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) have introduced the National Offshore Aquaculture Act of 2007 (HR 2010 and S 1609).

The bill gives NOAA authority to permit and regulate aquaculture operations in federal waters, three to 200 miles off the US coast.

Offshore farms use large submerged cages, 80 feet or greater in diameter, anchored to the sea floor to grow fish.

NOAA officials say offshore fish farming will help meet the growing demand for seafood, reduce the nation's dependence on imported seafood, and create jobs in coastal communities.

Annual seafood consumption in the US rose to 16.5 pounds per person in 2006. Shrimp continues to be the seafood of choice for Americans; last year per capita consumption reached 4.4 pounds.