These are exciting times for seafood farming: the boom in half-shell market for oysters, emergence of seaweed farming ("seagreens"), growing public recognition of the environmental sustainability and efficiency of well managed finfish farming, innovation in alternative feeds that has broken the dependence of fed aquaculture on forage fish, the gradual opening of federal waters to aquaculture, cost reductions in recirculating systems, and the growing demand for local food. Restoration (hatchery-based) aquaculture is being applied to king crab in Alaska, abalone on the West Coast, corals in Florida, marine fish in South Carolina, California, and Texas, and of course salmon on both coasts and oysters around the country.

Despite these bright spots, much remains to be done if domestic aquaculture is to contribute to the federal health recommendation that Americans double their seafood consumption. Imports still dominate seafood counters at US supermarkets. The National Marine Fisheries Service's recent 2015 Fisheries of the U.S. report shows that the average American increased his or her annual seafood consumption by nearly a pound to 15.5 pounds of fish and shellfish per person in 2015, the first increase in years. Much of the increase is likely due to increased consumption of imported farmed salmon. Although US wild stocks are now harvested at sustainable levels or are under rebuilding plans, US aquaculture production, despite a few bright spots, has lagged. Overall US aquaculture has declined in recent years because catfish production is half of what it was a few years ago; marine aquaculture production in the US between 2009 and 2014 increased modestly by 54% in value and 17% in volume. If we are to double US seafood consumption as recommended in this year's federal nutrition guidelines, we still have much to do to increase US seafood production from a combination of aquaculture and wild stocks. 

Obtaining an aquaculture permit is still costly, time consuming, and frustrating in many parts of the country. We're working almost daily with federal and state agencies to iron out permit issues in state waters. This coming year, for example, we'll work with the US Army Corps of Engineers on the proposed revisions to shellfish permitting under the Nationwide 48 general permit process. Several NOAA, university, and nonprofit research center studies are underway to better understand the habitat and endangered species risks and benefits of shellfish farms.

Although a permit process is in place for federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico, it has yet to be tested perhaps because interested parties are awaiting the outcome of litigation. A better understanding of the benefits and risks of seafood farming among commercial and recreational fishermen might also help in the Gulf region.  This past month, I participated in a Gulf of Mexico aquaculture roundtable in New Orleans convened by the Gulf Seafood Institute, the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission, and NOAA.  As one major buyer noted, "local seafood has lost its place at the table to imports." The roundtable explored ways commercial fishing and aquaculture might work together to rebuild the supply of and market for local finfish. Offshore aquaculture is one of the emerging production options with the completion of the Rule (the regulations) for the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Plan for Offshore Aquaculture. A coordinated permit process is ready. The roundtable included commercial and recreational fishermen, seafood buyers and processors, aquaculture entrepreneurs, state fisheries directors, and environmental NGOs. 

The Gulf Rule is serving as a model for other regions as the Western Pacific Council has begun its process to set up an aquaculture plan for federal waters.  The first step, now underway, is to conduct an Environmental Impact analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act. The EIS and subsequent Council action will likely require two years to complete (a similar timeline to other fishery management plans).   

On the shellfish front, the Washington Shellfish Initiative was relaunched in October led by the Pacific Shellfish Growers Association, the Puget Sound Restoration Fund, State of Washington, and NOAA Fisheries. Elsewhere, Alaska and Connecticut launched shellfish initiatives and the Southeast and Gulf states are considering similar efforts to advance shellfish farming and restoration. These initiatives have leveraged public support, high level political attention, state and federal funding, new shellfish research facilities, and improvements in regulatory efficiency.

In this fall newsletter, we have included important updates and funding opportunities including the following:
  • the annual Fisheries of the United States report on wild and cultured seafood production in the United States with an expanded aquaculture section,
  • the first formal independent review of NOAA's aquaculture science program (report due in early 2017),
  • the design of an X-prize type competition to highlight and increase consumption of US aquaculture products,
  • White House "Seafood Champions of Change" awards including awards to four people engaged in aquaculture production and science,
  • the relaunch of the Washington Shellfish Initiative and other shellfish initiatives,
  • Saltonstall-Kennedy, Gulf oyster, and Department of Energy macroalgae grant programs
Earlier this year, with your help and advice, we completed a five year aquaculture strategy for NOAA Fisheries' aquaculture program. We are working closely with the National Sea Grant Program and the National Ocean Service on delivering NOAA-wide aquaculture science and services. Please continue to send me, regional aquaculture coordinators, science center and headquarters staff your suggestions and critiques.  

Best wishes for the holidays,

Michael

 

Dr. Michael Rubino
Director, NOAA Office of Aquaculture
Michael Rubino signature
 
Fisheries in the U.S. Annual Report


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Each year NOAA Fisheries compiles key fisheries statistics into an annual snapshot documenting fishing and aquaculture's importance to the nation. The 
2015 Fisheries in the U.S.  report shows that the American aquaculture industry produced $1.3 billion worth of seafood in 2014. Marine aquaculture production has been increasing steadily in recent years, increasing at an average annual rate of about 3% from 2009 to 2013. Because aquaculture focuses on high-value food species, the value of U.S. aquaculture production is equal to about 20% of the value of total U.S. seafood production, while the volume of U.S. aquaculture production is 6% of the total production. The top U.S. marine aquaculture species in 2014 were oysters ($168 million), clams ($121 million), and Atlantic salmon ($76 million).
 
NOAA has no authority to require collection of aquaculture production data.  We rely on state agencies, USDA, industry associations, producers, and foreign nations who provided the data that made this publication possible. The information received helps guide fishing and aquaculture practices and helps highlight challenges and opportunities for aquaculture. It is important to capture accurate and timely data regarding aquaculture production and we welcome any ideas to increase participation, improve the accuracy of the data, or make the reporting process easier.
 
2016 NOAA Aquaculture Science Review Update
This year marked the first time that the Office of Aquaculture collaborated with an independent review panel of aquaculture scientists to conduct a review of the NOAA aquaculture science programs carried out at NOAA Science Centers. The review included presentations by NOAA scientists describing the aquaculture research portfolios and priorities at each center, as well as poster sessions dedicated to specific projects.  

The recommendations from the review panel have been received and sent to the Science Center Directors who will submit their responses for inclusion in the Office of Aquaculture's final report due in early 2017.  Working with others to assess research  and identify current and future priorities is invaluable as NOAA works toward a more successful and sustainable US aquaculture industry.

 
White House Recognizes Seafood Champions of Change

The White House recognized a dozen individuals as " White House Champions of Change for Sustainable Seafood " for their contribution to the ongoing recovery of America's fishing industry and fishing communities.
 
The Champions of Change highlighted the economic and ecological recovery of America's fishing industry after decades of decline. The White House acknowledged that this shift did not come easy, stating that, "Although there's still more to do, America's fisherman have led the way to the United States becoming a global leader in sustainable seafood management."
 
Congratulations to all of the Champions of Change. We'd like to recognize several in particular for their contribution to aquaculture:
 
  • Byron Encalade, President of the Louisiana Oysterman Association and community advocate for the sustainable management of oyster grounds.
  • Kevan Main, the Senior Scientist and Program Manager at the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium who has lead Mote's aquaculture research program since 2001.
  • Monica Jain, the founding director of Fish 2.0, a social enterprise that brings entrepreneurs and investors together to grow the sustainable seafood sector including aquaculture.
  • Luka Mossman, Fisheries Outreach Coordinator for the the Conservation International Hawaii Program who worked with stakeholders including NOAA's recently retired Pacific Regional Aquaculture Coordinator, Alan Everson, to put native Hawaiian fish ponds back into production.

Design of Aquaculture Prize Competition
NOAA, USDA, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), and aquaculture associations are designing a prize competition aimed at increasing recognition for and consumption of US aquaculture products. Several dozen people attended a prize design workshop in Washington, D.C. on December 8 to focus the scope of a potential prize or prizes. Participants included representatives from US aquaculture producers, aquaculture associations, seafood buyers and processors, marketing and branding companies, health professionals, chefs, aquariums, and environmental NGOs. Many thanks to Rebecca Grimm of OSTP for hosting and facilitating the design workshop.

Launch of the Second Phase of the Washington Shellfish Initiative and Other Shellfish Initiatives 
NOAA Fisheries officials joined Washington Governor Jay Inslee, Washington tribes, shellfish producers and others to announce the  second phase of the Washington Shellfish Initiative , a partnership to promote the environmental and economic value of shellfish. The second phase of the initiative will include new steps to improve water quality, prepare for and address the impacts of ocean acidification, assess impacts of harmful algal blooms, and rebuild native shellfish stocks, such as Olympia oysters and pinto abalone. 

Elsewhere, state and federal officials, industry, university, and NGO representatives led by Tessa Getchis with Connecticut Sea Grant launched the Connecticut Shellfish Initiative on October 20 at the University of Connecticut's Groton campus. In Alaska, Julie Decker at the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation and many collaborators started the Alaska Mariculture Initiative. A planning meeting for a Southeastern states shellfish initiative, led by Julie Davis of South Carolina's Sea Grant Program, was held in Charleston, S.C., November 16 just before the International Shellfish Restoration Conference. Other planning efforts are underway in Rhode Island, California, Oregon, and the states of the Gulf of Mexico. States such as Maine, Virginia, Maryland, New York, and New Jersey already have active collaborative commercial and restoration shellfish activities underway.
 
2017 Saltonstall-Kennedy Grant Competition
NOAA Fisheries announces approximately $10 million available to support fisheries projects through the 2017 Saltonstall-Kennedy (SK) Grant competition. The solicitation for proposals opened on Grants.gov on July 22, 2016, and will close on December 9, 2016. New for this solicitation was the requirement to submit a pre-proposal in advance of a full proposal submission. The pre-proposal process is intended to provide an indication to potential applicants of the technical merit and the relevancy of the proposed project to the SK program before preparing a full proposal.

The goal of the SK program is to fund projects that address the needs of fishing communities, optimize economic benefits by building and maintaining sustainable fisheries, and increase other opportunities to keep working waterfronts viable. The 2017 SK solicitation seeks applicants that fall into seven priorities:
  • Marine Aquaculture
  • Fishery Data Collection
  • Techniques for reducing bycatch and other adverse impacts
  • Adapting to climate change and other long term ecosystem change
  • Promotion, development, and marketing
  • Socio-economic research
  • Territorial science
Please see the  solicitation  for more information on  How to Apply.
 
Thanks to many of you who volunteer to serve as reviewers of SK grants and other NOAA and federal competitive grant programs. We all greatly benefit from the expertise of reviewers and we could not administer these programs without your participation.

 
Algae Funding Announcement
Energy (ARPA-E) intends to issue a new  Funding Opportunity Announcement , for the development of advanced cultivation technologies that enable profitable and energy efficient production of macroalgal-biomass (seaweeds) in the ocean. Specifically, ARPA-E is interested in new designs and approaches to macroalgae cultivation and production with integrated harvesting solutions. These systems may leverage new material and engineering solutions, autonomous and/or robotic operations, as well as advanced sensing and monitoring capabilities.

 
Gulf of Mexico Oyster Farming Competitive Grant Program
The Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission, NOAA, and outside reviewers are reviewing proposals submitted in response to the Commission's request for proposals to address technical and regulatory opportunities and challenges of off-bottom oyster farming in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico. The Commission is making $375,000 available to a handful of projects in 2017. Awards should be announced before the end of the year.
 
Aquaculture Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for the  Pacific Islands Region 
In August, NOAA Fisheries published a notice of intent in the Federal Register to prepare a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) to analyze potential environmental impacts of a Federal aquaculture management program in the Pacific Island Region. At this early stage of project planning, features of this management program may include:
  • Permitting requirements, eligibility, duration and transferability
  • Application requirements, operational requirements, and restrictions,
  • Allowable marine aquaculture systems;
  • Species types and quantities allowed for aquaculture;
  • Marine aquaculture siting requirements and conditions;
  • Restricted access zones for facilities;
  • Framework procedures for evaluating and modifying aquaculture management measures
Currently, there is no comprehensive program for management of aquaculture in the exclusive economic zone of the Pacific Islands Region. The release of the notice of intent opened the official public scoping process that will help to identify alternatives and determine the scope of environmental issues for consideration in the PEIS. The PEIS is intended to support offshore aquaculture development, including appropriate management of unit species for aquaculture, reasonably foreseeable types of offshore aquaculture operations, and permitting and reporting requirements for persons conducting aquaculture activities in federal waters. NOAA Fisheries  is currently reviewing public comments and further refining the range of alternatives to be considered in the PEIS.
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