Executive Order 13921, Promoting American Seafood Competitiveness and Economic Growth (issued May 7, 2020), instructs the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to lead a multi-agency, public planning effort to identify ten Aquaculture Opportunity Areas (AOAs).
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries), on behalf of NOAA, selected the federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico as one of the first geographic regions in which to identify AOAs.
The National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science initiated a spatial planning process to assist agency decision makers in identifying areas that may be suitable for locating AOAs as mandated by Executive Order 13921. This process was based on spatial suitability modeling that included data layers relevant to administrative boundaries, national security (i.e., military), navigation and transportation, energy and industry infrastructure, commercial and recreational fishing, natural and cultural resources, and oceanography (i.e., non-living resources).
This spatial modeling approach was specific to the planning goal of identifying discrete areas between 500 and 2,000 acres that met the industry and engineering requirements of depth and distance from shore and that may be suitable for all types of aquaculture development including the cultivation of finfish, macroalgae, shellfish, or a combination of species. This work resulted in An Aquaculture Opportunity Atlas for the U.S. Gulf of Mexico (Atlas), which identified nine options for potential AOA locations or “AOA options.”
The Atlas is a technical document providing peer-reviewed geospatial planning information that will be used as one source of information to assist the agency in identifying one or more AOAs.
NOAA Fisheries then published a Notice of Intent on June 1, 2022 announcing its intent to prepare a programmatic environmental impact statement and conduct public scoping meetings. Public scoping is an important step in the effort to identify Aquaculture Opportunity Areas in U.S. federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico. In addition to providing information on how to provide public comments, the Notice of Intent includes information about the purpose and need for identifying AOAs in federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico, background information on AOAs, a description of the preliminary alternatives to be considered for evaluation in the programmatic environmental impact statement, and a detailed list of the types of information, data, comments, views, analysis, alternatives, or suggestions that would be helpful to NOAA Fisheries.
The draft and final programmatic environmental impact statement will assess the impacts of siting aquaculture facilities in different potential AOA locations in federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico, as informed by the Atlas and other relevant sources of information. The draft programmatic environmental impact statement will also be published for public comment and all comments will be considered prior to publication of a final programmatic environmental impact statement.
AOAs may only be identified by NOAA Fisheries after completion of a final programmatic environmental impact statement and issuance of a Record of Decision.
Spring - Summer 2022 Public scoping/public comment period
(June 1-August 1, 2022)
Fall 2022 Publish summary of public scoping comments
and develop draft programmatic environmental impact statement
Winter 2022 - Summer 2023 Develop draft programmatic environmental impact statement
Fall 2023 Publish draft programmatic environmental impact statement
and public comment period
Winter - Spring 2024 Consider all public comments and develop final programmatic environmental impact statement
Summer 2024 Publish final programmatic environmental impact statement and publish Record of Decision