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Director's Corner - December 2014

by Dr. Michael Rubino

December 2014

Happy holidays! As 2014 winds down I wanted to take a moment to look back upon what has been an exciting year for U.S. marine aquaculture development. Over the past year there has been a growing recognition, as demonstrated by White House announcements, national press articles and elsewhere, that domestic aquaculture is a vital and growing component of our nation’s seafood supply. The recognition is due to the research, outreach, and other efforts of not just NOAA but also our numerous partners: other government agencies, Native American tribes, academia, industry, NGOs and non-profits.  

Here at NOAA, we have worked with partners to streamline aquaculture permitting, develop new aquaculture methods and technologies, develop key science products that contribute to a better understanding of the benefits and risks of marine aquaculture, and refine aquaculture methods and technologies through competitive  grants and research at NOAA science centers.   

Read more of this year’s highlights below and on our 2014 highlight timeline.

2014 Aquaculture Highlight Timeline


U.S. Marine Aquaculture Production Growing at 8% per Year

Ten years ago, NOAA made a commitment to reinvigorate the agency’s aquaculture program, whose mission is to encourage and foster sustainable marine aquaculture development in the United States. That investment is beginning to show results. U.S. marine aquaculture production is now growing at an average of 8% per year, mostly due to gains in marine shellfish production. According to the 2013 Fisheries of the United States report (updated with expanded information on aquaculture), the total value of U.S. aquaculture production is now $1.2 billion dollars, or 20% of commercial landings. Marine aquaculture is a growing source of jobs and business opportunities in coastal communities, and more of these communities are beginning to embrace it as a way to produce seafood and jobs.  Many would be surprised to learn that the landed (or dockside or farm-gate) value of aquaculture products is a significant economic driver in some regions. In particular, the landed value of aquaculture in the Northeast region (Maine to North Carolina) was $219 million in 2013 versus $61 million for all of groundfish combined (aquaculture still trails scallops at $466 million and lobsters at $461 million). In Oregon and Washington, shellfish farming generated $160 million in 2013.  

Developing the First-Ever Regional Approach to Aquaculture in Federal Waters

In August 2014, NOAA Fisheries released a proposed rule to implement the first regional fishery management plan for aquaculture in federal waters. The rule will establish a permitting system for offshore marine aquaculture in the Gulf of Mexico that will be implemented in close coordination with other federal regulatory agencies. This proposed rule marks a major milestone for the agency, and provides a model for other regional fishery management councils that may be interested in setting up a comprehensive regulatory program for aquaculture in federal waters in their region. We are currently working with the Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the other agencies that issue key permits for aquaculture, to develop a coordinated permitting process including tools to implement this plan once it is finalized (such as guidance for baseline assessments, monitoring, recordkeeping, and reporting requirements).

Opening Access to Federal Waters

The first-ever permit for commercial shellfish production in federal waters was issued by the Army Corps to Catalina Sea Ranch in January 2014 for a farm in waters off of Southern California. The 100-acre farm, located six miles off of Long Beach, will have the capacity to produce 1,200 metric tons of Mediterranean mussels annually. NOAA continues to work with the farm, the California Coastal Commission, and other agencies to finalize various monitoring requirements included in the final permits.

More recently the first Army Corps permit in New England for offshore mussel culture was issued for a site at Horseshoe Shoals, south of Cape Cod. This project includes partners at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA and Salem State University.  It was supported in part by NOAA competitive grant funding as a way to help evaluate the permitting process for mussel farms in federal waters in the northeast.  This is the first aquaculture facility permitted in federal waters in the Greater Atlantic Region (a second permit for a different site is still under review), but given the interest in offshore mussel culture in the region it is likely not the last.  We have plans next year to host a workshop, in collaboration with colleagues who work on endangered species and essential fish habitat protection, to examine environmental implications of siting mussel farms in federal waters. 

Off Hawaii, the Velella Mariculture Research Project was issued a short-term permit to farm almaco jack on an experimental scale in federal waters. Several additional applications for aquaculture operations in federal waters off of California, Hawaii, and Massachusetts are in various stages of the permitting.

Expanded Shellfish Initiatives

Launched in 2011, NOAA’s National Shellfish Initiative aims to increase numbers of shellfish in our nation’s coastal waters for commercial and restoration purposes, stimulating coastal economies and improving ecosystem health. The National Shellfish Initiative spurred several states to announce complementary initiatives, including those in Washington,  California, and Alaska. Under this initiative, NOAA is also working with public or private partners in Connecticut, Oregon, Hawaii, the Chesapeake Bay, and Gulf states to advance shellfish aquaculture and restoration. The unique and productive partnerships between federal agencies, state agencies, shellfish farmers, and conservation interests has yielded progress including improving the permitting process for shellfish farmers and shellfish restoration projects and understanding and addressing the effects of ocean acidification in the Pacific Northwest.

The Washington Shellfish Initiative celebrated a major milestone in May of 2014 as the Kenneth K. Chew Center for Shellfish Research and Restoration opened at NOAA’s Manchester Research Station. This new facility will support native shellfish restoration in the region under a partnership agreement with the Puget Sound Restoration Fund.

Federal Aquaculture Initiatives

In a June 2014 fact sheet the White House announced eight new Federal actions to protect and manage our oceans. Two of these eight actions directly described aquaculture efforts. The first was the release of National Strategic Plan for Federal Aquaculture Research by the National Science & Technology Council’s Committee on Science. The plan, developed by an interagency working group including NOAA, identifies priorities for federal  aquaculture  research and science  activities. The second action called for bolstering domestic shellfish aquaculture including current federal interagency work to streamline shellfish permitting. You can look forward to products from this interagency collaboration in 2015.

Best Management Practices for Cage Culture in the U.S. Caribbean

In July 2014 NOAA and the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute (GCFI) published Best Management Practices (BMPs) for Cage Culture in the U.S. Caribbean. These BMPs were developed collaboratively by a team of over 20 experts including coral and aquaculture scientists, industry representatives, environmental NGOs, and NOAA staff. They are voluntary guidelines providing a roadmap to effectively site, permit, and operate  marine aquaculture operations. They provide an overview and recommendations on ecological effects, water quality, escapes, fish health, feeds, human dimensions, permitting, siting, monitoring, and reporting. The BMPs are a tool for diverse stakeholders including farm owners, coastal managers and community planners, and federal, state and local regulatory agencies.

NOAA’s Contributions to Aquaculture Featured in Fisheries Journal

NOAA experts have made tremendous contributions over the years to the field of aquaculture, excelling in every aspect of the science and research – from hatchery systems and technology development to stock enhancement and habitat restoration techniques. NOAA contributions to the field were in the spotlight in the aquaculture-focused November issue of Fisheries. A peer-reviewed publication of the American Fisheries Society, the journal featured several articles authored by current and former NOAA experts and researchers and their collaborators across federal and state agencies, tribes, and academia. Featured researchers included Mike Rust and Kevin Amos from NOAA Fisheries’ Office of Aquaculture and Thomas Flagg from the NOAA Fisheries' Northwest Fisheries Science Center. In particular, Mike Rust led a team of authors for the seminal review article on the environmental effects of net pen farming. You can read more and access the articles here.

In summary, this past year was also a great year for aquaculture in the news! Be sure to check our website frequently for the most recent aquaculture news clippings. You can also explore past postings in the news archive.


Thank you for your continued interest in NOAA’s Office of Aquaculture. Aquaculture represents a vital link in meeting our seafood needs, and we continue to work with our partners to make the future a bright one. Look out for our January Newsletter, which will detail our priorities and initiatives in 2015. Have a safe holiday and a Happy New Year!