Congressman Rahall Urges Caution Against Hasty Development of Offshore Aquaculture

May 9, 2008

Committee on Natural Resources Press Release 

CONTACT: Allyson Groff or Blake Androff, 202-226-9019

Washington, D.C. - House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick J. Rahall (D-WV), citing a new report released today by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on U.S. aquaculture, cautioned that the report’s findings illustrate that significant barriers still exist in the development of an environmentally safe offshore aquaculture industry.

Concerned by increased industry and stakeholder interest in expanding the U.S. aquaculture industry into offshore waters where no clear regulatory framework exists, Chairman Rahall asked the GAO in February 2007 to assess a variety of policy and regulatory questions to ensure that such development occurs in an environmentally and economically sustainable manner.  While there are currently no aquaculture projects in U.S. federal waters, successful onshore farming operations do exist.

The GAO report underscores the need to establish a clear regulatory system to oversee the potential expansion of the aquaculture industry into offshore waters.

In April 2007, Rahall introduced the National Offshore Aquaculture Act of 2007 (H.R. 2010) at the request of, and as a courtesy to, the Administration.  The legislation would authorize the Secretary of Commerce to establish and implement a regulatory system for offshore aquaculture in the United States Exclusive Economic Zone.

“The Administration’s proposed bill was a good first step, but it does not go far enough to ensure adequate protection for the marine environment.  This new report makes abundantly clear what I have long believed – any offshore aquaculture development must be done in a manner that does not jeopardize the health of our oceans or the viability of the fishing industry,” Rahall said.

The GAO report identifies several important safeguards that need to be carefully considered to help regulate the offshore aquaculture industry, including: 

  • The appointment of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as the lead federal agency to regulate and permit any offshore aquaculture facilities. 

  • The clear delineation of the roles and responsibilities of other federal agencies and states in the administration of an offshore aquaculture program to minimize confusion. 

  • The establishment of a permitting and site selection process that clearly identifies the terms and conditions for offshore aquaculture operations. 

  • The implementation of a regulatory process to review, monitor, and mitigate the potential environmental impacts of offshore aquaculture facilities. 

  • Additional research on (1) developing fish feeds that do not rely heavily on harvesting wild fish; (2) developing best management practices; (3) exploring how escaped offshore aquaculture-raised fish might impact wild fish populations; and (4) developing strategies to breed and raise fish while effectively managing possible disease. 

The report, “Multiple Administrative and Environmental Issues Need to be Addressed in Establishing a U.S. Regulatory Framework”, is available on GAO’s Web site at: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d08594.pdf. 

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