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A Milestone for U.S. Aquaculture: 35th Anniversary of the National Aquaculture Act

September 21, 2015

“It is in the national interest, and it is the national policy, to encourage the development of aquaculture in the United States.”

By including this clear statement in the National Aquaculture Act of 1980, Congress recognized that seafood demand outpaced  sustainable yield, that the United States relied too heavily on imported seafood, and that the United States had significant potential for aquaculture production. The Act has been reauthorized several times, most recently in the Agricultural Act of 2014 (the Farm Bill).  Thirty-five years later, renewed efforts are underway to realize the potential recognized in 1980.  U.S. aquaculture, with an annual production of 594 million pounds of seafood valued at $1.2 billion in 2013, represents nearly 20 percent of the value of seafood caught or farmed in the United States.  The federal nutrition guidelines recommend that Americans increase their seafood consumption from one meal per week to two, and much of that seafood could come from domestic aquaculture.

Coordination and Collaboration

The National Aquaculture Act called on both the private and public sectors to help support developing domestic aquaculture. It declared a national aquaculture policy and coordinated federal activities, including those of the Department of Commerce (NOAA), Department of Agriculture, and Department of the Interior (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service).

NOAA Fisheries and its predecessor agencies have been involved in aquaculture for more than 125 years, pioneering fish culture methods and stock enhancement techniques to replenish wild stocks. Many culture, hatching, and rearing techniques currently used by the industry worldwide were developed in NOAA labs, such as the Milford, Connecticut lab for mollusks; the Manchester, Washington, lab for salmon; and the Galveston, Texas lab for shrimp.

NOAA has a long history of conducting regulatory, research, outreach, and international activities on marine aquaculture, releasing its first Aquaculture Policy in 1998. A formal Aquaculture Program began at NOAA in 2004, a 10-Year Plan for Marine Aquaculture was released in 2007, and the Department of Commerce and NOAA aquaculture policies were released in 2011. Today three NOAA branches collaborate on marine aquaculture activities, including NOAA Fisheries (Office of Aquaculture, along with science centers and regional offices), Office of Ocean and Atmospheric Research’s National Sea Grant College Program, and the National Ocean Service’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science.

It’s In the Numbers

At the time the National Aquaculture Act passed in 1980, aquaculture accounted for less than 10 percent of global seafood production. In the United States, aquaculture accounted for an even smaller percentage of domestic production. However, over the past 35 years global aquaculture production has risen at an unprecedented rate in response to increased seafood demand, stagnant wild capture fisheries, and an increasing global population.

Today aquaculture accounts for more than half of global seafood production, and continues to rise. While overall U.S. aquaculture production has been flat or slightly declining in recent years, its overall value has increased, with domestic marine aquaculture growing at a rate of 8 percent per year. Locally grown oysters, clams, mussels, seaweed, and fish are in demand around the country.  However, despite the growing and vibrant aquaculture industry at home, the United States is still a small player in global aquaculture production. In fact, the United States imports more than 90 percent of the seafood we eat (by value), half of which comes from aquaculture conducted in other countries.

Recognizing Potential

The National Aquaculture Act realized the potential of aquaculture as a tool to produce safe, sustainable seafood, support commercial and recreational fisheries, restore species and marine habitat, and create employment and business opportunities in coastal communities. We’ve come a long way since 1980 to improve the technologies, environmental compatibility, scientific research, and regulatory aspects of U.S. aquaculture. Celebrate with NOAA this week as we highlight some of the great things going on in U.S. aquaculture today, and look forward to the next 35 years.

Dive into Aquaculture Week!

INFOGRAPHIC: U.S. Aquaculture Production
INFOGRAPHIC: Aquaculture Grows Resilient Coastal Communities
VIDEO: Exploring U.S. Aquaculture
VIDEO: U.S. Marine Aquaculture: A Promising Future
VIDEO: Ocean Aquaculture: Farming Seafood for People and the Planet
Oyster Facts
Recoving Endangered White Abalone

Check back throughout the week for more stories on U.S. Aquaculture!