Alaska wary of federal push for marine aquaculture
The U.S. has a seafood trade deficit. The Trump administration’s answer is to promote aquaculture in federal waters. That’s alarmed some who see this as a threat to Alaska’s longstanding ban on fish farms.
During a recent stop in Juneau, NOAA Fisheries chief Chris Oliver said that wild seafood harvests alone can’t keep up with rising global demand.
But there’s another way.
“Aquaculture is going to be where the major increases in seafood production occur whether it happens in foreign countries or in United States waters,” Oliver told a room of fishermen, seafood marketing executives and marine scientists.
Aquaculture is a broad term: it’s farming in the sea. That could be shellfish like oysters or seaweed which Alaska permits. But it also includes fish farms — which Alaska does not allow.
The nation’s federal waters are vast. They begin three miles offshore and extend 200 nautical miles. There isn’t any aquaculture in federal waters — yet.
Acting U.S. Under Secretary of Commerce Timothy Gallaudet said during a Juneau visit that streamlining regulations and boosting aquaculture production – both part of the Commerce Department’s 2018-2022 strategic plan – could help change that.
“As we look to the ocean to continue to support human society, aquaculture is going to be a growing factor,” Gallaudet said.
There’s a bill pending in the U.S. Senate that could decide how federal aquaculture is regulated. It’s being backed by an industry group called Stronger America Through Seafood.
Campaign Manager Margaret Henderson said Alaska’s ability to ban offshore fish farms remains a sticking point on Capitol Hill.
“We in no way mean to impede a state’s authority to manage their own waters,” Henderson said in an interview. “But when it comes to managing federal waters outside the state line we think that there’s a balance to be had there, that there’s there’s room for both.”
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