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Director's Corner - April 2013

by Dr. Michael Rubino


April 2013

Happy spring, everyone.  While mild temperatures haven’t quite reached the nation’s capital yet, the cherry blossoms are beginning to bloom, tourists have arrived in force, and the Washington Nationals are off to a great start!

We’ve just come out of some of the bigger aquaculture meetings, where policy experts and scientists gather to exchange information and discuss new initiatives and research.  As you know, the process of enabling domestic marine aquaculture is moving forward.  I am continually amazed at the progress made in aquaculture science especially – researchers across the country are finding answers to difficult questions.  Their answers are making aquaculture more efficient and sustainable.

In February, the American Academy for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) held their annual meeting in Boston, MA.  The theme was “The Beauty and Benefits of Science” and aquaculture was prominent in the discussion, with four different symposia discussing various aspects.  Many of the presenters pointed out that aquaculture is one of the most resource efficient ways to produce protein and that environmental concerns posed by aquaculture are being addressed by smart design and improved management. 

NOAA’s symposium was called, ‘Science’s Role in Developing Aquaculture as a Sustainable Use of the Ocean’ and explored how recent scientific discoveries are enabling aquaculture to move rapidly toward sustainability.  Panelists presented recent advances in seaweed culture, shellfish restoration, salmon farming, and the use of alternative ingredients in fish feed.   Thanks to Barry Costa-Pierce, John Forster, Betsy Peabody, Ole Torrissen, Paul Sandifer, and Michael Rust.  Read more on our website.

NOAA’s role in science and extension was also in evidence at the World Aquaculture Society in Nashville.  NOAA scientists spoke at sessions on feeds, working waterfronts, aquatic health, fisheries enhancement and restoration, open ocean aquaculture, and acidification.  Other NOAA funded efforts were much in evidence.  Sea Grant extension agents, for example, presented their work with wide variety of partners  and many university, industry, and NGO recipients of NOAA grants presented the outcomes of their work. 

AAAS and Nashville also highlighted initial results of the initiatives that emerged from NOAA’s aquaculture policy issued in 2011: the National Shellfish Initiative, a Technology Transfer Initiative, and work on regulatory efficiency.  These initiatives were highlighted in Dr. Jane Lubchenco’s list of accomplishments during her tenure as NOAA Administrator. 

Inspired by the National Shellfish Initiative, federal, state, and tribal partners are working with commercial shellfish farmers and restoration shellfish NGOs on the Washington Shellfish Initiative in to streamline shellfish permitting, address ocean acidification, and restore native shellfish (see this New York Times op-ed).  NOAA is working with partners in California to finalize a similar initiative.  More outcomes are outlined on our National Shellfish Initiative homepage.

Our Technology Transfer Initiative also is bearing fruit.  NOAA's primary technology transfer mechanism historically has been the dissemination of scientific and technical information developed at federal labs to individuals, industry, government, and universities.  More recently, NOAA is examining the use of Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) to develop and transfer certain intellectual property through patents, licensing, or other agreements in partnership with universities and the private sector.

Another method has been through competitive grants.  During Fiscal Year 2012, limited NOAA funding was made available for grants through the Sea Grant Aquaculture Research grant competition, the NOAA Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR), and for work at NOAA Science Centers.  There is more information on our Technology Transfer Initiative homepage.

NOAA and its partners are working diligently as well to increase access to sites for commercial and restoration aquaculture.  In 2012, federal agencies formed the Joint Subcommittee on Aquaculture (JSA) Task Force on Aquaculture Regulations.  This task force is chaired by NOAA with participation of the Army Corps of Engineers, Fish & Wildlife Service, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Agriculture, and the White House Council on Environmental Quality and Office of Science and Technology Policy.  The task force has starting by drafting guidance on a ‘model permit process’ for federal agency consultations on Army Corps shellfish permits (which is similar to work being done as part of the Washington Shellfish Initiative).

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Plan for Aquaculture (Gulf FMP) recently passed another milestone.   As you may remember, the Gulf FMP was approved by the Council in January 2009.  Implementation was delayed as NOAA developed a new aquaculture policy, which included guidance for aquaculture development in federal waters.  With the policy in place, NOAA (as it typically does for FMPs) develops regulations along with guidance documents (‘rule package’) to implement the Gulf FMP.  The rule package was “deemed” by the council in February of this year.  NOAA is now completing the rule package (including a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement to address potential changes caused by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill).  The rule package will then go to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), then out for public comment, then back to OMB before a final rule is issued.  For more information, a Q&A, and the associated documents, go to our Gulf FMP webpage.

Thanks for reading and, as always, thank you for your continued partnership as we moved forward to enable marine aquaculture in the U.S.