The following guest commentary was sent to IntraFish by David O’Brien, acting director for the NOAA Fisheries Office of Aquaculture, and co-chair of the Interagency Task Force for Aquaculture Economic Development, in response to the IntraFish editorial titled, NOAA's new five-year aquaculture plan is 42 years in the making and still behind the times.

“Our ability to put healthful food on our tables while protecting our global ecosystems has never been more important. As we face the impacts of climate change … we must plan for a future that centers around resilience. To ensure resilient ecosystems, coastal communities, seafood access, and more, we must invest in and enable a robust domestic aquaculture industry.”

This is how we introduce the new NOAA Aquaculture Strategic Plan — a plan that articulates NOAA’s vision for a thriving and sustainable US aquaculture industry. A plan that describes actions NOAA can take to help make this vision a reality across four goals: sustainable and efficient management, science, communications, and economic development.

Why do we need a plan? Because we can do better.

Global aquaculture production has increased dramatically over the past 40 years, but could be more robust in the United States. We import at least 70 percent of our seafood, most of which is farmed, and we rank 18th in global aquaculture production.

NOAA’s plan outlines our rationale and strategies to support a strong and competitive domestic seafood sector, one that creates good jobs and supports economic opportunity, through sustainable aquaculture development.

We import at least 70 percent of our seafood, most of which is farmed, and we rank 18th in global aquaculture production.

We cannot meet the demand for seafood through wild fisheries alone. Aquaculture provides over half of global seafood, and the demand for seafood continues to grow. Any substantial increase in our seafood supply will likely come from the farming of finfish, shellfish and macroalgae.

A range of production methods will help us to meet this demand -- from land-based ponds and raceways, recirculating systems, and ocean farming in both coastal and offshore environments.

Sustainable aquaculture practices have greatly improved over the years, yet much of the conversation around aquaculture has not caught up to the science.

Well-managed aquaculture is now by far one of the most environmentally efficient forms of food production, requiring less freshwater and producing less pollution and greenhouse gasses than most other farming systems. This fact has been demonstrated in multiple scientific studies, including a recent publication in the journal Nature Sustainability. This efficiency is one reason aquaculture is a climate-smart method of food production.

NOAA’s strategic plan for aquaculture is best viewed in the context of a broader effort under the White House Office of Science and Technology Subcommittee on Aquaculture (SCA), which includes partners from across the federal government.

In February 2022, the SCA published two strategic plans -- one for science coordination and another for regulatory efficiency. A third plan focused on economic development is under development. These plans will form the basis of a new National Aquaculture Development Plan.

Recent articles in IntraFish suggested that NOAA’s plan does not focus enough on recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS). However, the plan was designed to present the agency’s high-level perspective on a range of science topics needed to support aquaculture, and RAS is one of several science elements that are each equally featured in the strategy.

We are proud to support R&D related to its advancement. For example, NOAA Sea Grant has spent over $11 million (€10.6 million) of their aquaculture grant research funding on RAS projects over the past five years. This includes supporting the Recirculating Aquaculture Salmon Network and a new Great Lakes RAS hub.

Produced responsibly, as it is in the United States, farmed seafood is good for people, good for the economy, and good for the planet.

NOAA’s strategic plan for aquaculture will guide our efforts to help achieve our nation’s potential for sustainable aquaculture.