As we release the first newsletter of 2021, I want to take a moment to look back at the challenges and accomplishments of last year. 2020 was not an average year for the agency or the aquaculture industry and I feel it is important to continue to acknowledge what has changed. Many industries were impacted by COVID-19 and aquaculture was no exception.
This past year has tried us professionally, physically, and emotionally. However, the passion and dedication of the aquaculture community remains. For some growers there is a light at the end of the tunnel in the shape of foreign exports and increased sales through direct to consumer retail markets, but there is a long road to recovery still ahead. As we continue our policy, science, and perception work to expand aquaculture opportunities we are also working to support the existing industry.
I am incredibly proud of NOAA’s Aquaculture Program and the work we accomplished last year. As in years past, we continued to address the physical, social, and bureaucratic limits of sustainable aquaculture with projects like:
- Hosting the First Workshop Convening a NOAA-Wide Aquaculture Education Community of Practice: Recognizing the need to better connect aquaculture education, NOAA Fisheries, the National Sea Grant Office, and the Office of Education, embarked on a collaborative effort to convene NOAA with its aquarium and industry partners to establish a NOAA aquaculture education community of practice. After identifying opportunities and gaps in NOAA’s aquaculture education efforts through a NOAA-wide inventory survey in March, the team kicked off a fall virtual workshop series focused on increasing aquaculture education. By sharing best practices and enhancing consistency in NOAA-wide, industry, and aquarium aquaculture educational efforts, this community of practice will help improve the public’s understanding of aquaculture as a source of domestically produced, healthy, and sustainable seafood.
- Funding Aquaculture Pilot Projects in Collaboration with States Marine Fisheries Commissions: In FY20, Congress provided NOAA Fisheries funds to encourage partnerships between the seafood industry and community stakeholders. To meet Congressional direction, NOAA Fisheries provided $2.0 million to support aquaculture pilot projects through the nation’s Interstate Marine Fisheries Commissions. The Commissions are using these funds to support regional pilot projects for sustainable marine aquaculture. Specific pilot projects are selected on a competitive basis and focus on developing techniques and business models to grow domestic seafood production, prioritizing less commercially developed technologies for finfish, shellfish, seaweed, and addressing other industry barriers.
- Federal Waters Off Southern California and in the Gulf of Mexico Selected for Evaluation for the First Two AOAs: NOAA Fisheries announced federal waters off southern California and in the Gulf of Mexico as the first two regions to host Aquaculture Opportunity Areas (AOAs). The selection of these regions is the first step in a process designed to establish 10 AOAs nationwide by 2025. These two regions were selected for future aquaculture opportunity area locations based on the already available spatial analysis data and current industry interest in developing sustainable aquaculture operations. Looking forward, NOAA will consider information collected through the public request for information, including industry interest, state agency input, and ecosystem factors to begin selection of regions to assess for possible future AOAs. The creation of AOAs will foster the U.S. aquaculture industry through proactive planning that creates opportunities for aquaculture farmers and maintains NOAA’s commitment to environmental stewardship.
- NOAA Aquaculture Program Expansion: With the growing need for aquaculture liaisons, policy experts, and even engineers NOAA’s Aquaculture Program is staffing up. NOAA Fisheries expanded our network of Regional Aquaculture Coordinators and for the first time has at least one coordinator in each region. In NOAA Fisheries headquarters we have expanded our regulatory capacity with the creation of a Policy Branch Chief position. In the Science Centers we have a new veterinarian, engineer, algae biologists, and economists all coming on board to support different aspects of aquaculture. These new staff members are working with partner agencies, tribal nations, industry stakeholders, and community groups to grow our domestic seafood supply. They can share lessons learned with prospective growers, move projects through the permit reviews, and bring science information to regional and national issues like potential entanglements and farming in high wave energy environments.
In 2021 Aquaculture Program will continue the multiple year planning process to establish AOAs and conduct outreach to our stakeholder communities. This year, we will be releasing the first ever NOAA Strategic Aquaculture Science Plan (SASP). The SASP articulates the key role of NOAA science in: (1) developing ‘tools for rules’ to support aquaculture regulatory decision making, and (2) supporting research and development to increase sustainable aquaculture production. Harmonization of our aquaculture science portfolio under the SASP will support our objective to sustainably grow the US marine aquaculture sector. This year we will also work to highlight diversity and inclusion in the aquaculture community through a D&I feature series. As the U.S. aquaculture industry continues to expand, we have the opportunity to build a community that reflects the stakeholders we serve, while impacting access to sustainable seafood, community health, and climate resilience. These newer efforts paired with our existing work like supporting AOAs and aquaculture education are helping to expand domestic opportunities. With production opportunities also comes opportunities to strengthen working waterfronts, community health, and resilient food systems for a changing environment.
Best wishes and stay safe,
Director, NOAA Office of Aquaculture