What is an Aquaculture Opportunity Area?
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 within the AOA that are environmentally, socially, and economically appropriate for commercial aquaculture.
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 global science-based guidance on sustainable aquaculture management, and support the “triple bottom line” of environmental, economic, and social sustainability. This approach has been refined and utilized 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.
How will NOAA identify locations for AOAs?
To identify the geographic areas, NOAA will use a combination of spatial mapping approaches, scientific review, and stakeholder input. The National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science will use the best available data to account for key environmental, economic, social, and cultural considerations (i.e. fishing and protected areas) to identify areas that may support sustainable aquaculture development. NOAA will then combine those results with input from Fishery Management Councils, Marine Fisheries Commissions, states and tribes, and the general public and to identify the geographic area to be considered in more depth. Public and stakeholder input will include a public comment period and close coordination with regional and national stakeholders.
After the geographic areas are identified, the environmental and related social and economic effects of siting aquaculture facilities will be considered through the preparation of a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS).
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 may be required.
Would additional National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review be required for aquaculture operations proposed within an AOA?
Additional NEPA analysis may be required as part of permitting and authorization processes. NOAA will work with our federal agency partners throughout the AOA identification process to determine what information we can include in the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) to inform future permitting needs.
How will impacts to protected species, designated critical habitat, marine protected areas, and essential fish habitats be avoided or minimized in AOAs?
Impacts to protected species and habitats will be considered at multiple points in the process:
1. NOAA will consider marine mammals, threatened and endangered species, designated critical habitats, national marine sanctuaries, and essential fish habitats in the process of identifying the locations of AOAs in order to select sites where interactions between these resources and aquaculture operations may be avoided and minimized.
2. Each PEIS will consider areas of biological importance within the locations identified and the types of aquaculture gear that may be used in the AOA and identify areas of biological importance to avoid and minimize interactions between aquaculture operations and marine mammals, endangered species and their designated critical habitats, essential fish habitat for federally managed species designated under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and marine protected areas including national marine sanctuaries.
3. Each aquaculture permit applicant within an AOA will have to comply with applicable laws and regulations (e.g., Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, Clean Water Act and National Marine Sanctuaries Act) and may have additional consultation and authorization requirements.
Can aquaculture operations be sited outside of AOAs?
Yes. Aquaculture operations can be proposed outside of AOAs, but they would not benefit from the scientific analysis or public engagement that went into identifying locations and completing a PEIS for the AOAs. Proposing aquaculture operations outside of AOAs may result in additional time and effort on the part of the applicant.
How large will an AOA be and how will the size be determined?
There is no predetermined size for an AOA. Each of the first two AOAs may accommodate approximately three to five commercial aquaculture operations, but this will vary depending on the specifics of the location. Operations could vary in size, configuration, and species cultivated (e.g., finfish, shellfish, seaweed, and/or integrated multi-trophic aquaculture).
The size and shape of each AOA will be determined as part of the AOA identification process. During this process, NOAA will work with federal and state partners, tribes, and interested stakeholders to determine the appropriate size of each AOA. This will include using the best available science to consider aspects such as the types of species likely to be cultivated in the AOA, maximum number and configuration of operations within an area, maximum annual farm production based on carrying capacity modeling, and monitoring considerations. The size of AOAs may differ based on oceanographic conditions, other uses (e.g., fishing), and potential impacts to protected species, essential fish habitat and marine protected areas, among other considerations.
Will all AOAs be in federal waters?
AOAs could be identified in federal or state waters, or a combination of the two. The E.O. does not require that AOAs be located in federal waters. If states express interest in AOAs in state waters, that will be taken into consideration. The first two AOAs are expected to be in federal waters.
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 PEIS for each AOA will help maximize compatibility of AOAs with other ocean uses.
How will AOAs ensure sustainable aquaculture?
As aquaculture operations are proposed within each AOA, they will be subject to federal and state permitting and authorization processes, which may include project-specific requirements such as monitoring, reporting, and coastal zone consistency. Operations within each AOA would be separated by some amount of physical distance based upon results of modeling (e.g., for carrying capacity). Other analyses and efforts would be made to further minimize potential impacts while maximizing sustainable aquaculture production. Monitoring required as part of existing regulatory requirements for aquaculture operations (e.g., Clean Water Act permits) will also provide data that can be used to inform sustainable management.
Identifying AOAs is an opportunity for proactive stewardship to use best available global science-based guidance on sustainable aquaculture management, and support the “triple bottom line” of environmental, economic, and social sustainability. This approach has been refined and utilized 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 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.
How can the public participate in the AOA identification process?
There will be multiple opportunities for public and stakeholder participation in the process.
- An initial request for information in 2020 regarding siting considerations for the identification of 10 AOAs over the next five years. This process will be repeated annually until 10 AOAs have been identified. Review the current request for information at https://beta.regulations.gov/docket/NOAA-NMFS-2020-0118
- Public scoping for each PEIS.
- Public comment on each draft PEIS.