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‘Listening sessions’ held about US Aquaculture Opportunity Areas

A page from the NOAA Fisheries slide presentation showing possible future Aquaculture Opportunity Areas.
A page from the NOAA Fisheries slide presentation showing possible future Aquaculture Opportunity Areas.

United States authorities have begun holding public listening sessions about two planned Aquaculture Opportunity Areas (AOA) in the Gulf of Mexico and waters off southern California.

The sessions are being run by the aquaculture agency of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries division and are part of a 60-day comment period on the AOAs which ends on December 22.

The two-hour online sessions comprise a brief slide presentation on AOAs followed by an opportunity for listeners to provide verbal comments to the agency.

A national listening session was held yesterday, and three further sessions are planned. These are:

Spatial analysis

Each will focus on a specific region or national comments, but comments on each topic will be accepted at all meetings. The sessions are not question and answer sessions and are not about specific permit applications.

NOAA Fisheries Aquaculture is requesting information on both specific areas to consider for the first two AOAs, and other areas NOAA should consider nationally for future AOAs, and comments will only be accepted on those questions. Participants will be allowed to speak for up to two minutes.

In its presentation, NOAA Fisheries Aquaculture points out that AOAs are about spatial analysis and environmental planning and are not in themselves regulatory.

Normal rules still apply

“NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service) is not permitting or authorising aquaculture through AOAs,” states NOAA.

“The federal and state permitting and authorisation requirements are the same within AOAs as anywhere else.”

AOAs are the result of an Executive Order from current US president Donald Trump which increases coordination among agencies and clarifies existing regulations to reduce barriers that currently limit offshore aquaculture in federal waters.

Time limit

The Order sets a time limit of two years for the environmental review or authorisation of aquaculture projects when two or more agencies are involved.

Following the identification of thew first two AOAs, two additional geographic areas must be identified in each of the following four years, making 10 Aquaculture Opportunity Areas in total.

Stronger America Through Seafood (SATS), a US seafood industry coalition promoting fish farming, welcomed the Order but is also supporting a bipartisan bill which would remove some of the red tape holding back aquaculture development in the US. Executive Orders can be revoked, whereas a law would establish a clearer regulatory pathway over the long term.