A Public Planning Process
NOAA Fisheries is developing a programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS), in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), to consider identifying one or more Aquaculture Opportunity Areas (AOAs) in U.S. federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The PEIS will also evaluate the impacts and benefits associated with siting aquaculture in those locations, which could occur through future proposals and project level review.
The intent of this PEIS is to support long-term planning for offshore aquaculture. The PEIS is not a regulatory or permitting action and does not propose to authorize or permit any specific aquaculture-related activities or individual aquaculture projects.
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Public Scoping Summary Now Available
On May 2, 2023, NOAA Fisheries and its cooperating agencies published a Public Scoping Summary that provides an overview of the 216 verbal and written submissions it received during a 60-day public scoping period in summer 2022. The summary also includes an appendix with all of the verbatim verbal and written submissions.
Public Scoping Summary (PDF, 455 pages)
NOAA Fisheries and its cooperating agencies are considering the public comments received, along with the best available science and any new information related to ocean uses in or around the nine potential locations for AOAs in the Gulf of Mexico, in order to make a determination about how many and which locations will be carried forward and fully analyzed as proposed alternatives in the draft PEIS.
If you have trouble downloading the public scoping summary, have any questions about the PEIS development process, or if you would like to be added to the email list and receive updates on the PEIS process, please send a request to Andrew Richard at email@example.com.
What is an AOA?
An AOA is a defined geographic area that has been evaluated to determine its potential suitability for commercial aquaculture.
NOAA Fisheries will use a combination of scientific analysis and public engagement to identify AOAs that may be environmentally, socially, and economically suitable for commercial aquaculture.
AOAs may only be identified by NOAA Fisheries after completion of a final programmatic environmental impact statement and issuance of a Record of Decision, in accordance with NEPA.
Visit NOAA Fisheries national AOA website for more information on AOAs.
What is the Goal Of and Need For Identifying AOAs?
The goal of identifying AOAs is to promote American seafood competitiveness, food security, economic growth, and support the facilitation of the development of domestic commercial aquaculture, consistent with sustaining and conserving marine resources and applicable laws, regulations and policies.
In addition to meeting the directives of Executive Order 13921, Promoting American Seafood Competitiveness and Economic Growth (E.O. 13921, May 7, 2020), identifying AOAs will help to address the increasing demand for seafood; inform long-term planning for marine aquaculture development; and address interests and concerns regarding offshore marine aquaculture siting.
Expanding sustainable seafood production, both wild-capture and aquaculture, is a key investment in the blue economy. NOAA is committed to developing marine aquaculture as a resource-efficient method of increasing and diversifying U.S. seafood production that can expand and stabilize U.S. seafood supply in the face of environmental change and economic uncertainty.
Preliminary Options for AOA Locations
In November 2021, the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science published a comprehensive spatial modeling study, An Aquaculture Opportunity Atlas for the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, which identified nine potential options for AOA locations in federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico.
These nine locations were identified using 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 that are 500 - 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.
These nine locations are potential location options that may be considered and evaluated in the draft PEIS, along with a “no action” alternative. NMFS will consider comments received during the public scoping period when determining the number and scope of alternatives to be explored and selecting the locations to be evaluated in the draft PEIS. NMFS is also considering the suitability of evaluating alternatives that would focus on specific aquaculture types (e.g., finfish, shellfish, macroalgae or multi-species), specific species that could be cultivated, or gears that could be used in the nine potential AOA location options identified in the Atlas.
Click on map to enlarge
Map showing all nine potential location options for AOAs in federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico. Three locations, W-1, W-4 and W-8, are located off the coast of Texas. Three locations, C-3, C-11 and C-13, are located off the coast of Louisiana. Three locations, E-1, E-3 and E-4, are located off the west coast of Florida. This map can be found on pages vii and 133 of An Aquaculture Opportunity Atlas for the U.S. Gulf of Mexico.
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.
Stay tuned! The next opportunity for formal public comment and involvement in the PEIS process will be when the draft PEIS is published.
In the meantime, if you have questions about the PEIS or new information that you think would help NOAA Fisheries in its analysis of potential AOA locations, please reach out to Andrew Richard, Southeast Regional Aquaculture Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 551-5709.
For More Information
Contact Andrew Richard, Southeast Regional Aquaculture Coordinator, at email@example.com 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.