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Director's Corner - July 2014

by Dr. Michael Rubino

July 2014

Good morning!  It’s been an exciting few months—and not just at the World Cup.  I want to take a moment and share with you some recent announcements and update you on the progress we’ve made in collaboration with our partners on both the science and management of aquaculture.

Aquaculture in the Spotlight

Recent administration announcements highlight a common vision for aquaculture in the Federal Government and NOAA’s work in supporting this vision. Last month, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released the Strategic Plan for Federal Aquaculture Research. The Plan will guide federal aquaculture research and describes ways the government working with partners can help advance and expand domestic interests in aquaculture. The Plan was a multi-year collaboration developed by the Interagency Working Group on Aquaculture (IWG-A), formerly called the Joint Subcommittee on Aquaculture, in which NOAA Fisheries  and the National Sea Grant Program play integral roles. Jeff Silverstein of USDA’s Agricultural Research Service and I co-chaired a team of scientists from several federal agencies. Thanks again for all of the public comments we received last year on the draft.

The Plan was announced June 17th by President Obama as one of eight Federal actions to protect and manage our oceans. Two of these eight actions directly describe aquaculture efforts. The President also highlighted our interagency work to streamline shellfish permitting, recognizing that “by removing barriers in the permitting process, the United States can encourage shellfish farming and help rebalance our seafood trade.” This initiative was also highlighted in Counselor to the President John Podesta’s keynote speech at Capitol Hill Ocean Week 2014 on June 10th, in which he explained how a more efficient permitting process “will be an economic boon for fisheries, create jobs and investments on our shores, and it will help rebalance our seafood trade deficit.”

NOAA ‘s activities are key to implementing the federal directives on aquaculture. NOAA’s charge, reinforced in the 2011 NOAA Aquaculture Policy, is to foster marine aquaculture within the framework of the agency’s missions to manage our marine resources. The initiatives that emerged from the Policy--shellfish, technology transfer, and regulatory efficiency--focus on using the full range of technologies and strategies available to grow domestic aquaculture. In addition, the Policy calls for NOAA to use aquaculture as a tool to restore habitats and threatened species and to support commercial and recreational fisheries through stock enhancement.

The recent spotlight given to aquaculture reminds us of the influence it can have on meeting seafood demand. Growing a domestic source of seafood in the United States will require continued collaboration between NOAA and partners to move the science, policy and management of marine aquaculture forward.


Advances in Management

The National Shellfish Initiative and especially the associated state and regional shellfish initiatives are making headway in improving the efficiency of permitting shellfish farms while also continuing to protect sensitive habitats and species. Several states, including Virginia and those in New England, have had “general permits” for shellfish farming in place for some time.  Although there are several types of general permits available under the Army Corps of Engineers’ regulatory program, they all allow for quicker processing of applications that meet certain location and production method guidelines for having little negative effect on marine resources. During the design of the National Shellfish Initiative, federal and state agencies set up a general permit for oyster culture in Maryland that has led to a resurgence of oyster farming in the Maryland tributaries  of the Chesapeake Bay. Since then, the states of Washington, California, and Connecticut have started shellfish initiatives and folks in Oregon and the Gulf states are now designing initiatives as well. All include efforts to implement general permits or other ways of resolving permitting issues. For example, in Humboldt Bay, California, a baywide management approach and a master permit to be administered by the Humboldt Bay Harbor District are in development. In Washington State, efforts of a state-federal working group contributed to the issuance of the first permits for shellfish farming in seven years. Please visit NOAA’s shellfish portal for more information.

NOAA, as a federal agency, has a responsibility for managing fisheries (including aquaculture) in federal waters (“offshore”). The Draft Rule to implement the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Plan for Offshore Aquaculture, which would set up a permitting system for that region in coordination with other federal permitting agencies, is now in interagency review at the White House Office of Management and Budget. We hope to get the draft rule out for public comment this year. As some of you have demonstrated in coastal locations, fish can be grown in net pens with a minimal ecological footprint using responsible practices (see Price and Morris paper for summary of literature on environmental effects). If technical issues such as storms and distance, and cost barriers, can be overcome, going further offshore shows similar promise. Once finalized the Gulf aquaculture rule, along with existing environmental requirements (such as those under laws protecting endangered species, water quality, marine mammals, etc.), together comprise a full suite of environmental regulations and requirements. These requirements are typical in states with finfish farming such as Maine, Washington and Hawaii, and in other countries such as Canada, Norway, and the United Kingdom. We will be sure to alert you when the Draft Rule publishes and appreciate any comments or suggestions you provide during the public comment period.


Advances in Technology

Through its management responsibilities, internal research and external competitive grants programs, NOAA has worked with partners on a wide range of marine aquaculture technologies, species and locations including shellfish, finfish, seaweed, nearshore and offshore net pens, long lines and racks and on-land recirculating systems . Some specific examples include:

Recirculating aquaculture:  NOAA has funded universities and research institutes to develop recirculating systems for black sea bass, halibut, sea urchin, cobia, pompano, goggle eye, and other species. Several efforts resulted in startup commercial enterprises in states such as Maine, North Carolina, and Florida.

Pond or tank culture of baitfishNOAA Sea Grant funds enabled research and extension for raising baitfish in Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, Texas and the Great Lakes. For example, in the Great Lakes, Sea Grant extension educators worked with aquaculture baitfish industries to develop rapid testing systems for viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS). In Florida, Sea Grant worked with wild bait harvesters to build a complementary baitfish aquaculture industry.

Restoration shellfish:  The construction and opening of the Kenneth K. Chew Center for Shellfish Research and Restoration took place on May 22, 2014 at NOAA’s Manchester Research Station in Washington. NOAA and the Puget Sound Restoration Fund are working with state, tribal and industry partners to support the research and production of native oysters and other Pacific Northwest living marine resources.  The opening marks a major milestone for the Washington Shellfish Initiative.

Oyster hatchery production: NOAA researchers at the Aquaculture & Enhancement Division Lab in Milford, Connecticut continue to develop several technologies to increase yields at oyster hatcheries. One of the most recently developed, which uses probiotics, is being tested by the University of Rhode Island at commercial and university hatcheries and by the Oyster Seed Holding Company at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.

Seaweed culture:  NOAA SBIR grants supported a Maine seaweed company through the pilot phase of commercial development. The company is now providing seed stock to other commercial seaweed partners in the region and with Maine and Connecticut Sea Grant extension programs. This includes a training program for fishermen in seaweed and shellfish culture.

Integrated multitrophic aquaculture (IMTA): NOAA Sea Grant supported work with salmon, mussels, and algae IMTA research at the University of Maine. Also, a grant to the University of New Hampshire and the Portsmouth Fisherman Coop supported IMTA of steelhead trout in combination with mussels and algae in Portsmouth Harbor. In September 2010 NOAA, along with academic and industry partners, sponsored the first US-based workshop on IMTA in Washington. You can view the white paper published from the workshop here.

Alternative feeds:  Following up on the NOAA-USDA Alternative Feeds Initiative, researchers at the University of Maryland, USDA’s Agricultural Research Service,  NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center, and others continue to explore the use and nutrition of taurine. Some fish species need this nutrient to grow, however it is not found in terrestrial plants. Supplementation of taurine in all plant protein diets improves growth and health of several species to equal those fed traditional fish meal based diets. Along with meals made from animal and fish trimmings, some marine macro algae also contain taurine. 

Open ocean aquaculture:  NOAA has issued permits for one year experiments in Hawaii conducted by a private company to test single point mooring and tethering from a boat as ways to deploy cages in open ocean locations. NOAA has also funded research to develop technologies, such as cages, that make open ocean aquaculture possible.


Thank you for your continued interest and support! We look forward to sharing our progress again later this year.