As you read this, there are more than seven billion people on the planet in need of healthy and sustainable food sources. With a growing world population and limited land and freshwater resources, we cannot continue to do business as usual when it comes to our nation’s food security. Farmed seafood is critical for a sustainable seafood portfolio and Aquaculture Week is a yearly reminder of where the industry has been and where we hope to help it go.
Farmers, whether on land or water, and policymakers know that food production is not without challenges. Barriers that are often out of their control include extreme or unpredictable weather conditions, ocean acidification, changing water conditions, trade roadblocks, and increasingly the impacts of COVID-19.
I know that many members of the aquaculture community are still struggling as restaurant demand remains low and shellfish sales have been slow to recover. I wanted to thank each of you that have reached out to our office to provide ideas, information about impacts, and general updates during this time. While our office continues to create new opportunities for U.S. aquaculture, we understand that we must also support the existing industry. We’ve worked closely with our colleagues at NOAA, Sea Grant, and USDA to disburse CARES Act funds to seafood farmers, assess the economic effects of the pandemic on the seafood industry, and provide information about sources of assistance via the Sea Grant Seafood Information and Resources webpage. Your ideas on how we can work together to rebuild and create an industry more resilient to COVID-19 type shocks are most welcome.
For decades, the U.S. aquaculture industry in partnership with NOAA and others has played a critical role in diversifying our seafood portfolio making us more resilient to economic and environmental changes. I believe that we are now entering a new phase of aquaculture development and resilience with the recent Executive Order on Promoting American Seafood Competitiveness and Economic Growth.
The order calls in part for the expansion of sustainable U.S. seafood production through more efficient and predictable aquaculture permitting, updating the development plan, promoting the aquatic animal health plan, and the creation of Aquaculture Opportunity Areas (AOAs). AOAs are areas that show high potential for marine aquaculture (finfish, shellfish, or algae) following a science-based public planning process.
NOAA’s Aquaculture Program is already moving forward to meet the mandates set by the White House and last month we announced the selection of southern California and the Gulf of Mexico as the first regions for focused evaluation to find AOAs. Let me be clear, this selection does not mean the entire regions are opportunity areas. Instead, the selection allows us to deploy our resources to investigate the two regions. With an Exclusive Economic Zone of over 3.4 million square nautical miles, it is great to have specific areas of focus.
So how do these efforts expand aquaculture opportunities and benefit our food security? The in-depth spatial analysis used to create these AOAs increases permitting efficiencies. This ultimately means that farmers applying for permits in these areas could have a shorter review time compared to those applying for permits outside of an AOA.
Seafood farming, if done responsibly—as it is in the United States—is increasingly recognized as one of the most environmentally sustainable ways to produce food and protein. While we celebrate the last week of September as Aquaculture Week I know that the passion and stewardship of aquaculture farmers, researchers, policymakers, and our state and federal partners is a daily commitment. Through our continued collaboration I am confident that we can expand the social, economic, and environmental benefits of U.S. aquaculture.
Take care and best wishes,