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Frequently Asked Questions: Aquaculture Opportunity Areas in the Gulf of Mexico

Aquaculture Coordinators developed a list of Frequently Asked Questions and answers.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

 

Are the “AOA options” described in the Aquaculture Opportunity Area Atlas for the U.S. Gulf of Mexico already considered to be Aquaculture Opportunity Areas?

No. The Atlases are technical documents providing peer-reviewed geospatial planning information that will be used as one source of information to assist the agency in identifying AOAs. AOAs may only be identified by NMFS after completion of a final programmatic environmental impact statement and issuance of a Record of Decision. 

 

How did the Gulf of Mexico Aquaculture Opportunity Atlas identify the nine highly-ranked “options” for AOAs?

The National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science conducted a geospatial analysis to identify locations that may be suitable for locating AOAs and would minimize conflicts with other ocean user groups or protected and sensitive species and habitats. 

This process was based on spatial suitability modeling that included analysis of over 200 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. 

 

Is there a requirement that AOAs in the Gulf of Mexico be 500 - 2,000 acres in size?

Stakeholder engagement suggested that the spatial analysis in the Aquaculture Opportunity Atlas for the Gulf of Mexico target a minimum AOA Option size of 500 acres and a maximum AOA size of 2,000 acres, with favorable oceanographic conditions and use considerations that would allow for 3-5 farm operations within the AOA. Siting single farms is not the intent of NOAA Fisheries’ AOA planning effort.

NOAA Fisheries will consider the Atlas results, public input, and best-available science when developing the range of AOA alternatives that will be proposed in the draft programmatic environmental impact statement, including the list of nine highly-ranked AOA “options” in the Gulf of Mexico Aquaculture Opportunity Atlas. 

 

The Gulf of Mexico Aquaculture Opportunity Atlas did not identify any highly-ranked locations in federal waters off the coast of Mississippi, Alabama or the Florida Panhandle. Does that mean that there will not be AOAs in those regions? 

The spatial analysis in the Aquaculture Opportunity Atlas for the Gulf of Mexico targeted a minimum AOA size of 500 acres and a maximum AOA size of 2,000 acres, with favorable oceanographic conditions and use considerations that would allow for 3-5 farm operations. Siting single farms is not the purpose of NOAA Fisheries’ AOA planning effort, and it should be noted that aquaculture opportunities do exist in federal waters off the coast of Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle at scales that could support individual farms.

Historically, the aquaculture industry has been interested in developing aquaculture within the northeast region of the Gulf of Mexico because of the water quality (no Mississippi River influence), suitable depths, and distance to shore with deep water. However, constraints related to environmental interactions and competing uses in the area restrict the ability to identify appropriate sites at the scale required for an AOA. As a result, the geospatial study conducted for the Aquaculture Opportunity Atlas did not identify any potential options for AOAs in these locations. 

Given the thoroughness of this spatial analysis, NOAA Fisheries believes it is unlikely that a suitably-sized space could be found to support multiple commercial aquaculture operations within it off the coast of Mississippi, Alabama or the Florida Panhandle. 

NOAA Fisheries will consider public input and the best-available science when developing the range of AOA alternatives that will be proposed in the draft programmatic environmental impact statement, including the list of nine highly-ranked AOA “options” in the Gulf of Mexico Aquaculture Opportunity Atlas. 

 

Will any locations in state waters be considered for siting an AOA in this PEIS?

No. This PEIS will focus exclusively on identifying AOAs in federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Future rounds of AOA identification could consider areas in state waters in the Gulf of Mexico, depending upon states’ interest. 

 

Why is NOAA identifying Aquaculture Opportunity Areas (AOAs)?

NOAA has directives to preserve ocean sustainability and facilitate domestic aquaculture in the U.S. through the National Aquaculture Act of 1980, the NOAA Marine Aquaculture Policy, and Executive Order 13921, “Promoting American Seafood Competitiveness and Economic Growth” (May 7, 2020). NOAA has a variety of proven science-based tools and strategies that can support these directives and help communities thoughtfully consider how and where to sustainably develop offshore aquaculture that will complement wild-capture fisheries, working waterfronts, and our nation’s seafood processing and distribution infrastructure. 

Identifying AOAs is an opportunity to use best available science-based guidance on sustainable aquaculture management, and support environmental, economic, and social sustainability. This approach has been refined and used widely within states and by other countries with robust, sustainable aquaculture sectors.

Considering NOAA-trust resources and stakeholder uses of a defined area will help to encourage the sustainable growth of aquaculture by siting aquaculture farms in ways that minimize impacts to those natural resources and reduce user conflicts while maximizing public input in the AOA identification process.

 

Would permits be required for aquaculture operations proposed within an AOA?

Yes. The federal and state permitting and authorization requirements are 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 (ESA), essential fish habitat (EFH) under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), National Marine Sanctuaries Act (NMSA)). Compliance may include ESA and EFH consultations, and MMPA authorizations. Site-specific environmental surveys will be required to inform those consultations.

 

Would additional NEPA review be required for aquaculture operations proposed within an AOA?

Additional NEPA analysis may be required as part of permitting and authorization processes. Aquaculture projects proposed in an AOA could vary substantially and NOAA Fisheries will work with our federal agency partners throughout the AOA identification process to determine what information could be incorporated into the programmatic environmental impact statement to inform any future NEPA analyses required and allow future NEPA analyses for aquaculture operations proposed in AOA to tier off of this programmatic environmental impact statement.

 

Would AOAs be located in or impact Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)?

"Marine protected area" is a broad term for a park or other protected area that includes some marine or Great Lakes area. There are multiple MPAs in the Gulf of Mexico, including Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. 

There are no AOA “options” identified in the Gulf of Mexico Aquaculture Opportunity Atlas located within the boundaries of state or federal MPAs. This includes areas under consideration for new or expansion of existing MPAs. NOAA Fisheries will consider any potential impacts to MPAs and other NOAA trust resources in the programmatic environmental impact statement. 

 

Does identification of an AOA mean that other uses will be prohibited?

No. The identification of AOAs 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 AOA will help maximize compatibility of AOAs with other ocean uses.

 

How is this NOI related to the Final PEIS for the Pacific Islands Regional Aquaculture Management Program? 

This NOI is not related to the Final PEIS for the Pacific Islands Regional Aquaculture Management Program. The process to identify AOAs is currently ongoing in the Gulf of Mexico and Southern CA. For more information about the Final PEIS for the Pacific Islands Regional Aquaculture Management Program please see PIRO's website.

 

Why is aquaculture important?

Aquaculture is an increasingly integral source of safe, nutritious, and sustainable seafood for consumers. Increases in seafood demand, food security considerations, and economic opportunities highlight the need for increased domestic development of aquaculture.

Seafood farming, if done responsibly—as it is in the US—is increasingly recognized as one of the most environmentally sustainable ways to produce food and protein. Farming of shellfish and seaweed typically requires no feed, freshwater, or fertilizer, and can provide valuable services that can benefit coastal ecosystems.  Fish require far less feed than most terrestrial animals and thirty years of lessons learned have been put into practice in U.S. fish farm management practices and regulatory requirements.

Cooperating Agencies

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and U.S. Air Force will be cooperating agencies on this PEIS. 

For More Information

Contact Andrew Richard, Southeast Regional Aquaculture Coordinator at nmfs.ser.aquaculture@noaa.gov or (727) 551-5709. 

Individuals who use telecommunication devices for the deaf  may call the Federal Information Relay Service at 800-877-8339 between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., Eastern Time, Monday through Friday.

Federal Register Notices 

Notice of Intent to Prepare PEIS

Last updated by Southeast Regional Office on June 01, 2022