Trump Administration Backs Aquaculture Expansion

Published May 27, 2020

As part of President Donald Trump’s efforts to get the economy restarted, Trump issued an executive order (EO) directing federal agencies develop plans to boost domestic seafood production, in part by reducing regulatory barriers to commercial fishing and fish farming in federal waters.

Science reports the United States has a seafood trade deficit which topped $16.8 billion in 2017, importing far more seafood than it produces. Trump’s EO aims to help reduce that deficit, in part, by speeding permits and environmental reviews for new aquaculture farms, and directing regional fisheries councils to look for ways to reduce red tape and increase catches of wild fish stocks.

‘Vibrant and Competitive Seafood Industry’

Trump says his directive is about putting people to work while delivering nutritious food to Americans’ tables.

“America needs a vibrant and competitive seafood industry to create and sustain American jobs, put safe and healthy food on American tables, and contribute to the American economy,” Trump’s executive order says. “[I am acting] in order to strengthen the American economy; improve the competitiveness of American industry; ensure food security; provide environmentally safe and sustainable seafood; support American workers; ensure coordinated, predictable, and transparent Federal actions; and remove unnecessary regulatory burdens.”

Clarifying Federal Permitting Responsibilities

Permitting has proven to be a significant challenge to opening new fish farms. There are more than half a dozen federal agencies with regulatory responsibility and oversight of federal waters, each with their own procedures and rules.

Trump’s executive order aims to simplify the permitting process by putting the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in charge of permitting aquaculture farms outside of state waters, and directing the agency to complete environmental reviews required of aquafarms under the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act in 2 years or less. The EO also directs NOAA to identify two Aquaculture Opportunity Areas suitable for fish farms.

Trump’s EO also instructs the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop a nationwide permit for finfish aquaculture, stating a standardized permit will be faster for applicants to complete.

Industry Praises Action

Trump’s EO represents a strong show of support for the seafood industry, Margaret Henderson, campaign manager for Stronger America Through Seafood, told Science.

“This is huge,” said Henderson. “It’s a great show of support.”

An executive order, however good the ideas contained in it are, is not the right way to change national fisheries policy, Whitley Saumweber, director of the Stephenson Ocean Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Science.

“I think there are elements in here—regulatory coherence, identifying a lead agency, and national permitting schemes—that would need to be part of any national aquaculture policy, [but] I don’t think this is the path forward,” Saumweber said. “It’s premature and it’s trying to short-circuit what should otherwise be a legislative process [led by Congress].”

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.