The following letter was sent to IntraFish by Marianne Cufone, executive director of Recirculating Farms Coalition, in response to the column: NOAA's new five-year aquaculture plan is 42 years in the making and still behind the times. Photo: Recirculating Farms Coalition

NOAA’s recent publication of a five year strategic plan to grow the aquaculture sector is light on details and more of the same old story.

The agency will continue its almost singular focus: pushing the development of dirty and unnecessary industrial fish farming facilities in offshore waters, even as our climate changes and aquatic ecosystems become more fragile and volatile.

One needs only to look at the devastation left by Hurricane Ian—which carved a path over and around waters where the first pilot offshore facility is planned—to see that this is not a safe or realistic model to scale.

As IntraFish noted, NOAA’s plan leaves a huge opportunity on the table. It barely mentions the potential to grow community-based, sustainable, on-land aquaculture systems, also known as ecirculating aquaculture systems (RAS).

These farms can be designed to have a minimal environmental impact, while providing more affordable, local seafood for communities, and without conflicting with existing fishing business.

Combining RAS and hydroponics - growing plants and fish together - gives us aquaponics, an incredibly eco-efficient means to provide produce and protein in one related system that mimics nature. Fish provide nutrients for plants and plants clean the water for the fish.

The US is already seeing success with these sustainable systems. Many such farms just need more support to scale up.

Rather than continuing to push for an offshore model that has already failed repeatedly abroad — with disastrous impacts for communities and the environment — our government should turn to more sustainable and realistic options that do not undermine our already struggling fishing families.