Linda Chaves is the Aquaculture Coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).


How does NOAA Fisheries see the future of offshore aquaculture in U.S. waters?

There’s great potential for an offshore aquaculture industry in the United States. We currently import over 75% of the seafood that we consume in this country, and this would provide us a great opportunity to provide some of that product for the United States.

And if it’s in our waters, we have a much better opportunity to ensure that is safe and healthy, nutritious for the consumer. With recent developments in submerged aquaculture net-pen cages, we can now move into more inhospitable waters that are further offshore which was not allowed in the past.

You mentioned that there are cleaner waters and other considerations out there.

By moving the aquaculture industry offshore, we can move into cleaner, deeper waters, we can reduce conflicts with coastal users and we can provide a much better environment for aquaculture operations to exist.

Another point, which is important, is that since we imported close to 11 billion dollars in seafood last year and we had a 7.8 billion dollar trade deficit in seafood products, hopefully we will be able to stabilize that growing deficit rather than see it increasing.

Are capture fisheries insufficient to meet these future seafood needs?

Currently one-third of global seafood production is from aquaculture and it is expected to grow as global wild stock harvests have pretty much stabilized, even though we are rebuilding our fisheries in the United States and in other parts of the world.

There’s no way that wild harvests are going to be able to meet the growing demand for healthy seafood. Therefore, if we are going to be able to provide that for the nation, we are going to have to consider aquaculture and develop an aquaculture industry in the United States.

The aquaculture industry is going to keep growing globally and it only makes sense to have some of the economic benefits for that expansion accrue to the United States.

Will being involved in the offshore industry help prevent problems that the near-shore industry has experienced already?

NOAA’s involvement in the development of the aquaculture industry can ensure that aquaculture development occur in an environmentally responsible manner. We’ve already learned an awful lot from what’s happened in other countries.

And we also have a very, very good cavalry of scientists throughout NOAA who know quite a bit about the industry already. We’re also involved in pilot projects in a number of places around the country and through our cooperation with the private sector and use of our laboratories we can ensure that development occur in a responsible manner in the United States.

Will there be some regulations and protocols that will be observed and monitored?

While we expect that as a regulatory framework is established for this development in the offshore area, there will be regulations, there will be environmental monitoring requirements, and new environmental standards may need to be established.

But we’re not going to know that until we become more involved, until we’re actually out there doing a lot more monitoring. And NOAA has a, has an obvious role in that, in that NOAA has a definite role in the monitoring of aquaculture in the offshore area.

And also in determining whether or not existing environmental standards are adequate and if new ones need to be established.

Will there be public input on privatizing these waters?

Currently, when someone wants to site an aquaculture operation within the EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone), or within the offshore area, they come to fisheries as well as a number of other federal agencies, and each application is reviewed on a case by case basis.

As a regulatory framework is developed, I imagine that there will be some criteria established and there will be an opportunity for considerable public debate as we know that this is an issue that has gained the interest of many people.

But there is a precedent already, as with the leasing of the seabed for oil platforms, so this is not a new concept.

Are NOAA scientists addressing the issue of raising carnivorous species that subsist on fishmeal, which requires further fishing of wild fish to create feed for the farmed fish, and how this type of aquaculture often consumes more than it creates?

Currently there is a significant amount of research being done on the development of feeds for aquaculture and we’ve seen some really amazing developments, where in certain aquaculture operations the ratio of feed consumed to poundage produced has mproved dramatically; salmonids are a great example.

So I think there are going to be considerable developments in the area of feed and looking at other components for feeds.

But at the same time you have to take a look at the capture of those feed fish and it’s my understanding that the harvest of feed fish have not increased over the past 10, 20 years. What has changed though is the percentage of fishmeal that goes into aquaculture, as opposed to poultry or hog other industries. And what this has done also is to increase the cost of feed.

NOAA is working with industry partners to see what types of different species they’d like to culture. We don’t have any preconceived ideas of what fish ought to be cultured; I know that in Hawaii moi is being cultured, kobi is being looked at, snapper is being looked at; of course mussels have been cultured for many years, and there’s increasing work in that arena. Just about anything is possible. We will be looking at a number of different species.

Anything else you’d like to add regarding aquaculture?

One of the reasons that aquaculture is going to be so important for us in the future is that we have calculated that by 2025, we’re going to need 4 million metric tons more seafood than we are currently consuming today, in this country. There is no way that that production is going to come from wild stock fisheries, so we’re going to have to go to aquaculture.

And if we are culturing fish in the United States, we have a much better chance ensuring that those fish are safe, and that they are nutritious, and provide a healthy protein choice for the consumer.

There have been considerable technological advances in the last few years for offshore aquaculture. For one, there has been the development of submersible cages which can go 40- 50-feet or more below the surface, so that they are out of the way of high energy and wave situations on the surface; there’s a lot of development going on in the area of feeding technology so that no one has to be at those pens to feed the fish.

And there’s also been a lot of advances in the area of vaccination of fish, so that fish do not have to be fed antibiotics, so they can be vaccinated against disease. So the United States has been a leader in technological development for many, many years, and I trust that we can apply that technological expertise to this new developing industry sector.