New five-year national aquaculture plan signals that the concept of growing fish on land is not yet ready for prime time.

America plans to grow more seafood in its oceans

New five-year national aquaculture plan signals that the concept of growing fish on land is not yet ready for prime time.

By Fabian Dawson

America’s newly unveiled 5-Year Strategic Plan for Aquaculture, illustrates the urgent need to increase seafood production in US waters, while signalling that the concept of growing fish on land is not yet ready for prime time.

The first-of-its kind Strategic Plan, developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), will guide the agency’s Aquaculture Program from 2023-2028.

“This plan will act as a framework to guide NOAA’s Aquaculture Program, set priorities to achieve our mission, and support NOAA’s vision of healthy and resilient ecosystems, communities, and economies,” said NOAA Fisheries Assistant Administrator Janet Coit.

Applauding the plan, the Northwest Aquaculture Alliance (NWAA) said the plan will not only help shine a brighter spotlight on the urgent need to increase aquaculture production in US waters, but also create a clear path forward for America to do so.

“We also believe this plan can help the US, which currently ranks 18th worldwide in aquaculture production, become a more significant producer,” the Alliance said in a statement.

In response to criticisms that the NOAA plan does not address the potential of growing fish on land using recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS), the NWAA said it supports “all forms of growth of all aquaculture systems from coastal, marine, freshwater, and onshore (land-based) RAS.”

“Although onshore RAS has been developing rapidly, we hope and trust that, going forward, NOAA will also view RAS as a critical production method that is already in existence and needs more support as it scales.”

IntraFish Media reported that the NOAA plan has a major flaw by leaving out recirculating aquaculture system technology (RAS).

“The technology dates back decades but the explosion of its deployment in land-based operations is relatively new… land-based fish farming might represent the best chance the United States has to have a robust aquaculture sector,” the industry publication said.

However, it cautioned that most land-based operations are struggling to in some cases just get off the ground.

In other cases such as with Atlantic Sapphire, the world’s largest producer of land-based salmon, the company has experienced a string of mishaps and setbacks since it began operations in Miami and has yet to produce the level of fish it promised.

In British Columbia where the government is working on a plan to transition away from open-net aquaculture, the idea of closed-containment land based tanks replacing marine aquaculture is also being sidelined.

The   State of Salmon Aquaculture Technologies study to guide the transition process has warned that land-based recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) technology requires the use of large amounts of land, water, and power, and thus has a significant environmental footprint, in particular greenhouse gas emissions.

The BC coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship (FNFFS) has also said that moving to land-based salmon farming is not an option for aquaculture-dependent coastal indigenous communities in British Columbia.

One aquaculture innovation that is getting more attention these days is the semi-closed containment system or SCCS, which is being trialled by Cermaq Canada at one of its salmon farmers off Vancouver Island.

Cermaq Canada says the new SCCS system will essentially eliminate lateral contact between wild and farmed salmon, – the central issue in the polarising debate over ocean-based fish farming in British Columbia.

America’s new aquaculture plan

“Sustainable aquaculture encompasses the “triple bottom line” of economic viability, environmental stewardship, and social responsibility,” said David O’Brien, Acting Director of the Office of Aquaculture.

“As the demand for seafood continues to increase, and climate change continues to pose a threat to food security, NOAA will continue supporting efforts to grow seafood on land, in coastal waters, and the open ocean in harmony with a healthy and resilient environment.”

Here are the goals of the 5-Year Strategic Plan for Aquaculture;

Goal 1. Manage Sustainably and Efficiently
Improve the regulatory processes for sustainable coastal and marine aquaculture through collaboration with partners.

Goal 2. Lead Science for Sustainability
Use world-class science expertise to meet management and industry needs for a thriving seafood production sector and share this knowledge broadly.

Goal 3. Educate and Exchange Information
Build awareness and support for coastal, marine, and Great Lakes aquaculture through two-way communication with diverse stakeholders and partners.

Goal 4. Support Economic Growth and Viability
Facilitate a robust aquaculture industry that thrives as a key component of a resilient seafood sector.

(Image courtesy of Cermaq Canada show the salmon farmer’s SCCS trials off Vancouver Island)