Offshore aquaculture legislation targeted as threat to wild fish

Bipartisan legislation promoting offshore aquaculture has been reintroduced in Congress by two senators advocating for NOAA to establish comprehensive standards for offshore aquaculture in order to help producers meet a growing demand for fresh, locally sourced seafood.

The legislation has been repeatedly opposed by Don’t Cage Our Oceans, an entity that sees such legislation as harmful to local fishing communities and coastal economies dependent on health oceans.

Sens. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, reintroduced the Advancing the Quality and Understanding of American Aquaculture (AQUAA) Act on June 7, with a goal of establishing national standards for sustainable offshore aquaculture.

Their bill would designate NOAA as the lead federal agency for marine aquaculture. It would direct NOAA to establish a permitting system for offshore aquaculture for farms in federal waters, and also direct NOAA to develop a research and development grant program to prompt innovation in the industry.

Such legislation, said Wicker, would help U.S. producers meet a growing demand for fresh, locally sourced seafood.

Schatz cited Hawaii’s diverse aquaculture, which produced over $80 million in finfish, shellfish and algae in 2019. The bill would also benefit efforts to restore native Hawaiian fishponds, he said.


Members of Don’t Cage Our Oceans, who have repeatedly blocked this legislation in recent years, promptly issued their own news release, voicing concerns that industrial aquaculture pollutes marine ecosystems and puts seafood production in the hands of large corporations. They cited facilities already poised for construction offshore of Florida, Southern California and New England.

“Wild fish populations will be put in jeopardy by farmed fish escapements, disease, and the depletion of forage fish for feed,” said Linda Behnken, executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association in Sitka. “It will only contribute to threats against our coastal economies and marine resources.” 

James Mitchell, legislative director of Don’t Cage Our Oceans, cited the proposed legislation as an “unwanted and unnecessary development of a dirty and dangerous industry.”

“The AQUAA Act represents another form of control and consolidation of our food system,” said Elizabeth Schuster, government affairs representative for Food & Water Watch.

“We have seen the damage land-based factory farms cause to our air, water, and climate while concentrating profits in the hands of a few large corporations,” Schuster said. “Why would we push these monstrosities offshore where they are out of sight and out of mind? Congress needs to step up and protect public health and our environment, not further consolidate our food system for pure corporate gain.”

Brett Tolley, national program coordinator for the North American Marine Alliance (NAMA), cautions that such corporate ventures should not be confused with small-scale, nearshore aquaculture projects rooted in local communities and economies.

“We are led by thousands of small-scale fishing families around the U.S., whose livelihoods are threatened by the expansion of aquaculture into federal waters and the industrialization of our seafood system that comes along with it,” Tolley said.