Florida state officials on Wednesday asked the Commerce Department to designate federal waters off the Florida coastline a "marine aquaculture opportunity area," a necessary first step for developing the state's offshore aquaculture industry.
Section 7 of the executive order instructs the Secretary of Commerce to identify at least two geographic areas suitable for commercial aquaculture. And within two years of that designation an environmental impact statement to assess the impact of sites should be completed.
In a June 10 letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Nicole Fried said the state has been actively engaged in developing the offshore aquaculture industry for several years.
"In partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Center for Coastal Ocean Science, the Offshore Aquaculture Spatial Planning in Florida project has identified several large areas in the Gulf of Mexico ideal for the development of Aquaculture Opportunity Areas in state and federal waters off of Florida’s coast, critical for the development of this offshore industry," Fried wrote.
Florida’s seafood industry generates $3.2 billion (€2.8 billion) annually and supports more than 76,000 jobs, she said.
An effort is underway to develop the so-called Velella Epsilon aquaculture project, an offshore demonstration farm approximately 45 miles southwest of Sarasota, Florida. It would be the first of its kind in the United States. It's slated to raise a single batch, or cohort, of 20,000 kampachi (Seriola rivoliana) in the coming year.
The Environmental Protection Agency is currently reviewing the permit for the project, said Dawn Harris-Young, a press officer with the EPA in Florida.
While Velella Epsilon creeps along, the “Advancing the Quality and Understanding of American Aquaculture" (AQUAA) Act, has been crawling its way through Congress. First introduced in Congress in 2018, it seeks to establish an Office of Marine Aquaculture within NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service to streamline aquaculture facilities permits, as well as help fund research and extension services for several existing aquaculture priorities.
The bill is not expected to make it through Congress this session, but with the recent support of offshore aquaculture expressed by the administration through its executive order, speculation is that the bipartisan measure could pass next session.