There are currently no commercial finfish operations in US federal waters, which is defined as ocean water spanning between 12 and 200 miles offshore.
This week, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit for the Velella Epsilon aquaculture project, another big step in making American offshore aquaculture a reality.
The Velella Epsilon offshore demonstration farm is a netpen aquaculture facility set to be located approximately 45 miles southwest of Sarasota, Florida, slated to raise a single batch, or cohort, of 20,000 kampachi (Seriola rivoliana).
The project has not been without controversy. Just days ahead of the EPA issuing the crucial permit, residents and environmental activists testified online as part of a 90-minute public meeting.
During the meeting, much of the concern centered on the project exasperating the harmful algal blooms (HABs), known as red tide, that have impacted Florida's coastal economy in recent years, reported news site WMNF. Opponents are largely concerned over issues that have impacted netpen finfish aquaculture operations.
Sims told IntraFish when asked about the concerns from the meeting that the small cohort of fish required for this project is about 1 percent of the amount that would be grown offshore at a commercial scale.
"The project hopes to demonstrate to the Florida fishing and boating community that offshore aquaculture – when done properly – will be something that they can embrace," he said.
Sims further added that netpens located in deeper water and further from shore have shown no significant impact on the environment.
"The United Nations High Level Panel on the Oceans and Climate Change recommended that humanity needs to start to transition to more marine-based agricultural systems," he siad. "Conservation International, WWF, and The Nature Conservancy are all aligned with the need for expanding responsible aquaculture production in the ocean."
The EPA doesn't give Velella final approval with that permit because the project still requires structure approval from the US Army Corps of Engineers to move forward.