- NOAA Fisheries is seeking public input on the identification of areas within the Gulf of Mexico as Aquaculture Opportunity Areas (AOAs) and on what other areas in the nation NOAA should consider for future AOAs.
- An AOA is a small defined geographic area that has been evaluated to determine its potential suitability for commercial aquaculture. NOAA will use a combination of scientific analysis and public engagement to identify areas that are environmentally, socially, and economically appropriate for commercial aquaculture.
- Identifying AOAs is an opportunity for NOAA to use best available global science-based guidance on sustainable aquaculture management, and support the “triple bottom line” of environmental, economic, and social sustainability.
WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?
On May 7, 2020, the White House issued an Executive Order on Promoting American Seafood Competitiveness and Economic Growth (E.O. 13921). The Executive Order directs the Secretary of Commerce to identify Aquaculture Opportunity Areas in consultation with the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of the Interior, the Secretary of Agriculture, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, other appropriate Federal officials, and appropriate Regional Fishery Management Councils, and in coordination with appropriate State and tribal governments. This includes:
Within 1 year of the Executive Order, identifying at least two geographic areas containing locations suitable for commercial aquaculture;
Within 2 years of identifying each area, completing a National Environmental Policy Act, programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for each area to assess the impact of siting aquaculture facilities there;
For each of the following 4 years, identifying two additional geographic areas containing locations suitable for commercial aquaculture and completing a programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for each area within 2 years of the dates they are identified.
HOW YOU CAN GET INVOLVED:
Public input is a critical component of the process of identifying AOAs in the Gulf of Mexico. On October 23, 2020, NOAA Fisheries published a Request for Information (RFI) in the Federal Register (85 FR 67519), requesting interested parties provide input on potential areas in federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico that may be suitable for AOA development. Please refer to the “Supplementary Information” section of the RFI for specific questions NOAA seeks input on and the “Addresses” section for how to submit comments.
In addition to the RFI, national and regional listening sessions have been scheduled to provide opportunities for the public to learn more about the AOAs process. Information on national and regional (Gulf of Mexico) listening sessions are below:
- National Listening Session: November 5, 2020, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m Eastern
- Gulf of Mexico Listening Session: November 17, 2020, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Eastern
- National Listening Session: November 19, 2020, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m Eastern
Links and toll-free phone numbers for each webinar can be found here.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQs)
Would permits be required for aquaculture operations proposed within an Aquaculture Opportunity Areas?
Yes. The federal and state permitting, consultation and authorization requirements would be the same within AOAs as anywhere else. Aquaculture operations proposed within an AOA would be required to comply with all applicable federal and state laws and regulations (e.g., Clean Water Act, Rivers and Harbors Act, Endangered Species Act, essential fish habitat under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act and National Marine Sanctuaries Act). Site-specific environmental surveys and impact analyses also may be required.
Can aquaculture operations be sited outside of Aquaculture Opportunity Areas?
Yes. Aquaculture operations can be proposed outside of Aquaculture Opportunity Areas, but they would not benefit from the scientific analysis or public engagement that went into identifying locations and completing a programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for the Aquaculture Opportunity Area. Proposing aquaculture operations outside of Aquaculture Opportunity Areas may result in additional time and effort on the part of the applicant.
Does identification of an Aquaculture Opportunity Areas mean that other uses will be prohibited?
No. The identification of Aquaculture Opportunity Areas would not prohibit other legal activities from occurring. Information received throughout the process of identifying areas and completing a programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for each Aquaculture Opportunity Area will help maximize compatibility of Aquaculture Opportunity Areas with other ocean uses.
Where can I find more information on Aquaculture Opportunity Areas?
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