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NOAA Proposal Would Triple Aquaculture In Ten Years

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Samantha Fields
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Shellfish farming in Sandwich

Last week, a leaked presentation from the acting director of NOAA hinted at some major new directions and initiatives for that agency. One of the most concrete goals: the United States should triple aquaculture production in the next decade.

Oyster aquaculture has boomed in New England recently and kelp or seaweed aquaculture is also on the rise.

So, would it be a good idea to triple production in ten years?

“We have, in the United States, large seafood trade deficit,” Hauke Kite-Powell told Living Lab Radio. Kite-Powell is a research specialist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institutions Marine Policy Center.

“The United States, although a leader in seafood technology, is far behind when it comes to growing seafood in a sustainable way from the oceans. And so, there is a strong case to be made for increasing our domestic seafood production,” he said.

It will take more than just one product to reach the goal of tripling U.S. aquaculture production. Likely candidates include shellfish and kelp, Kite-Powell said.

Near-shore fish farming has received some bad publicity because of the problem of escaping non-native fish into the surrounding environment and the additional problem of pollution from feeding the fish and fish waste. But Kite-Powell said these problems can be avoided.

“In an efficiently run farm that doesn't really happen,” he said. “And if you go into the open ocean and keep things spaced far enough apart in environments where there's deep water and a lot of mixing, you can minimize those kind of effects.”

Because of the improvements in how fish are farmed, Kite-Powell says the latest legislative effort to boost aquaculture may succeed where previous efforts have failed. For one thing, fishermen have stopped opposing aquaculture as much as they used to.

“More and more fishermen who see the two as complimentary,” he said. “[They] are happy to fish for half the year and spend the other half of the year being farmers or stewards in an agriculture operation.”

Kite-Powell said there is momentum now within the government to pass laws to promote aquaculture that he hasn’t seen in previous years.

“I think the prospects are decent that we could make some progress here,” he said.

Elsa Partan is a producer for Living Lab Radio. She first came to the station in 2002 as an intern and fell in love with radio. She is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. From 2006 to 2009, she covered the state of Wyoming for the NPR member station Wyoming Public Media in Laramie. She was a newspaper reporter at The Mashpee Enterprise from 2010 to 2013. She lives in Falmouth with her husband and two daughters.