NOAA proposes first US aquaculture guidelines

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has proposed the nation’s first aquaculture policy, which it said responds to growing demand for local, safe, sustainably produced seafood.

Domestic aquaculture – seafood that is farmed rather than caught in the wild – currently only accounts for about five percent of seafood consumed in the United States. Eighty-four percent the United States’ seafood is imported and about half of that comes from aquaculture, the NOAA said – and it expects demand, both in the US and worldwide, to increase rapidly.

Its new draft policy document has a strong focus on how domestic aquaculture can be carried out sustainably, which the agency said comes from growing interest in seafood’s health benefits as well as increasing consumer concern about how fish is produced.

“Growing consumer demand for safe, local, and sustainably produced seafood, increasing energy costs, and the decline of fishing-related industries and working waterfronts are emerging drivers that support sustainable domestic aquaculture production,” the NOAA said.

The policy document outlines general standards that aquaculture fisheries will have to meet in an effort to ensure minimum impact on wild fish stocks and marine ecosystems. These include recommending more research into alternative feeds for farmed fish so they are not fed smaller wild varieties, which contributes to the decline in wild fish populations, and a proposed ban on stocking fish farms with non-native fish, pending more research into potential outcomes if they should escape.

“Aquaculture production – both small-scale and large-scale – is evolving toward sustainable practices through regulations at the federal and state levels, scientific advancements, consumer demand, technological innovation, industry best management practices, and protocols for responsible stock replenishment and hatchery practices,” the document said.

Globally, the amount of seafood produced through aquaculture surpassed that caught in the wild for the first time in 2009, and with the ongoing depletion of wild fish stocks, the NOAA said it envisages the role of aquaculture to expand still further.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, global fish consumption has reached its highest ever level of about 17 kg per person each year, and supplies more than 3bn people with at least 15 percent of their average animal protein intake.

The NOAA draft aquaculture policy is available online here.

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