The Ocean Stewards Institute has welcomed NOAA’s release of the Final Rule to Implement the Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for Offshore Marine Aquaculture in the Gulf of Mexico. The Rule’s release and January 13 publication by the Federal Register is the culmination of more than a decade’s work on this issue by the Ocean Stewards Institute and a number of other industry partners, the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council, and other Federal agencies.
“Let’s celebrate this important milestone,” said Neil Anthony Sims, president of the Ocean Stewards Institute and Co-CEO of Kampachi Farms, “but recognize that there is a lot of work that still needs to be done to build a responsible aquaculture industry in the offshore waters of the Gulf, to bring back America’s working waterfronts, to create the seafood jobs that we need, and to make the US seafood self-sufficient.”
The FMP forms part of the larger aquaculture policy for NOAA and the Department of Commerce and allows for expansion of aquaculture production in the open ocean, in the Gulf of Mexico Region. The Final Rule provides the regulatory framework required to implement the Plan, allowing for an open ocean aquaculture permit process—the first in federal waters—that NOAA is setting up now.
The Rule allows for a maximum annual production of 29,000 tons and imposes a 10-year time cap on permits. The Ocean Stewards Institute has expressed concerns that the short permit duration may be a disincentive to investment, and runs counter to long-term stewardship of the oceans. However, while the permit renewal process is not yet defined, the Stewards are optimistic that the Rule is a positive starting place.
The Stewards also see the new Rule as an opportunity to assuage common misconceptions and misunderstandings about open ocean aquaculture. “There is a lot of misinformation out there, but there is also a growing body of sound science that shows that open ocean aquaculture— when implemented properly—has minimal, often non-measurable environmental impact. We would encourage all interested parties to take the time to review these recent seminal publications,” said Sims.