American Aquaculture: A Failing System
Photo Credit: https://www.seafoodwatch.org/ocean-issues/aquaculture
On the heels of the 1970s oil crises, congress passed the National Aquaculture Act of 1980. Aquaculture refers to the raising of aquatic animals or growing of aquatic plants in a controlled environment. The act’s intentions included “reducing the U.S. trade deficit in fisheries products” however has failed to do so.
The amount of seafood imported into the U.S. continues to rise and the current value is about five times higher than exported seafood products. In addition, recent years show a decline in seafood production as a result of the shrinking number and size of fish farms. One way to reduce this trading gap would be to increase aquaculture production in the United States.
United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service
During the 1970s oil crises, the U.S. economy experienced a recession and a near-halt in trade as foreign relations became strained. The Yom Kippur War caused an oil embargo, or trade ban, between the U.S. and Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC). Oil prices skyrocketed, placing a heavy financial burden on consumers. The crises displayed the dynamic nature of foreign relationships.
U.S. reliance on foreign goods becomes problematic when economic, political, social and environmental factors in other countries influence and potentially jeopardize future supplies and prices. Based on the oil embargo example, it makes economic sense to increase domestic aquaculture, thereby reducing our reliance on foreign trade to ensure affordable seafood as demand continues to increase.
|Data collected from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ Fishery and Aquaculture Department|
Why hasn’t aquaculture progressed like the act had hoped?
One of the largest hurdles aquaculture faces is regulation.
Federal, state, and local government all play a role in permitting and regulating aquaculture facilities. Studies demonstrate that aquaculturists, government officials, and researchers all identify regulatory restrictions as the leading cause for sluggish aquaculture growth. In addition to the various levels of government involved, numerous agencies at each level playing an active role. From the Fish and Wildlife Service, which focuses on endangered species, to the Army Corps of Engineers which tackles coastal zone uses, aquaculturists are faced with specialty agencies each with their own set of rules for aquaculture operations.
In addition, special interests groups such as, homeowners, environmentalist and fishermen advocate for aquaculture restrictions. Coastal homeowners want to restrict any operation that inhibits their pristine view. Fishermen see aquaculture as a threat to their livelihood. Environmentalists worry pollution and genetic degradation of wild fish stocks. All of these groups have potential to influence permitting regulations when mobilized and vocal.
So how do we improve outcomes towards the legislative goals set out by the National Aquaculture Act?
Keeping with the status quo would result in increasing reliance on foreign sources for seafood products. American demand has been rising for decades and is likely to continue that trend. With that being said, alternative options could result in aquaculture expansion which in turn would reduce the trade deficit.
One option for aquaculture is to increase the abundance of land-based facilities. Since much of the opposition and regulation imposed on aquaculture deal with issues of coastal zone usage, increasing the abundance land-based facilities would negate the issues surrounding land use in coastal areas.
Another option is offshore aquaculture, an alternative that is in the beginning stages of development. Offshore aquaculture could be beneficial as it is removed from most human viewpoints and interactions. Offshore aquaculture also reduces the concern of pollution since greater water depths would reduce the concentration of waste compounds.
In addition to any of the proposed alternatives, increasing collaboration in governance is needed. Between interest groups, aquaculturists, federal, local and state officials, a cooperative form of regulation would serve in the best interests of all groups.
Through cooperation and collaboration of regulatory agencies and interests groups, the United States could make great strides towards the goals of the National Aquaculture Act.