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Feds Select Gulf Of Mexico As Opportunity Area for Fish Farming

View from a boat overlooking nets in the open water.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The federal government has selected the Gulf of Mexico as a potential spot for offshore fish farming, along with waters off Southern California. They are the first regions designated as "Aquaculture Opportunity Areas."

President Donald Trump signed an executive order in May on Promoting American Seafood Competitiveness and Economic Growth, which calls for two aquafarming areas to be established per year for five years.

James Morris with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the first areas could be anywhere from 500 to 2,000 acres. But the aquaculture areas will not be established on top of major wild-caught fishing grounds, he said.

"That's our future... a blended seafood production system that is more resilient. That is more productive and ultimately increases jobs," Morris said.

NOAA will determine how to use the space in the designated areas by May 2021 and then spend the next two years doing environmental reviews, he said.

A graphic breaking down aquaculture.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Most of the seafood consumed in the United States is imported from other countries, Morris said.

"The problem is, can you depend on that marine protein, and specifically in times of like we have now with global pandemics and disruption of shipping and commerce?" he said.

So he said the spotlight is now on food and energy independence, but some environmental advocates are concerned about farm fish waste in open waters, and the spread of diseases.

Morris said there's been a lot of advancements in the past 20 years to choose and manage aquaculture sites.

"Really, you see very little impact from aquaculture more than a few meters from the farm," Morris said. "Because if they're sited correctly and managed correctly, it can be a very sustainable and green way to produce marine protein.”

My main role for WUSF is to report on climate change and the environment, while taking part in NPR’s High-Impact Climate Change Team. I’m also a participant of the Florida Climate Change Reporting Network.