Marine aquaculture in the United States consists of a vibrant community of researchers and producers that contribute to the seafood supply, support commercial fisheries, enhance habitat and at-risk species, and maintain economic activity in coastal communities and at working waterfronts. However, U.S. marine aquaculture is small relative to overall U.S. and world production. The $1 billion value of total U.S. freshwater and marine aquaculture production pales in comparison to global production of $100 billion. Only 20 percent of U.S. production is marine species.

A compelling case can be made for growing more seafood in the United States. The United States is a major consumer of aquaculture products—we import 91% of our seafood—yet we are a minor producer. Half of what we import is from aquaculture, yet we produce so little at home— only 5% of the U.S. seafood supply is from domestic freshwater and marine aquaculture. Driven by imports, the U.S. seafood trade deficit has grown to over $10.4 billion annually.

As a complement to wild harvest fisheries, aquaculture can help meet the growing demand for seafood, reduce our dependence on imports, and help rebuild wild fish stocks. Domestic aquaculture also is critical to maintaining infrastructure in coastal communities that supports commercial fisheries, aquaculture, and all of the jobs associated with the seafood industry.

What Do We Produce?

Striped bass farm-raised in CaliforniaThe largest single sector of U.S. marine aquaculture is molluscan shellfish (oysters, clams, and mussels), which accounts for about two-thirds of total production. Marine aquaculture also produces shrimp and salmon as well as lesser amounts of barramundi, sea bass, and sea bream. Aquaculture also grows marine algae (seaweed) for food, medicine, and other uses. Marine aquaculture can take place in the ocean (in cages on the seafloor or suspended in the water column) or on land in manmade systems such as a recirculating aquaculture system.

Freshwater aquaculture produces species that are native to rivers, lakes, and streams. U.S. freshwater aquaculture is dominated by catfish but also produces trout, tilapia, and bass. Freshwater aquaculture takes place primarily in ponds and on land in manmade systems such as a recirculating aquaculture system.

How Do We Regulate It?

The United States and many other countries work hard to ensure that aquaculture is environmentally sustainable through strict regulation at the state and federal levels, proven management practices, and proper siting of farms, especially in coastal areas. Aquaculture operations must meet rigorous food safety and environmental standards and are closely monitored to ensure compliance. Seafood farmers follow the same food safety guidelines as land farmers and any other producer of seafood. These guidelines include harvesting from approved waters, feed regulations, handling and processing under sanitary conditions, and maintaining records.

Environmental regulations for aquaculture address siting, water quality, ecosystem impacts, animal health, and many other issues. For a detailed discussion, visit the Office of Aquaculture’s Policy webpage.

What Does NOAA Do?

As a federal agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce, NOAA is one of the primary agencies charged with permitting and overseeing aquaculture. NOAA’s aquaculture efforts are coordinated through the Office of Aquaculture at NOAA Fisheries and encompass activities at NOAA Fisheries Science Centers and Regional Offices, NOAA’s National Sea Grant program, and NOAA’s National Ocean Service.

The Office of Aquaculture fosters sustainable aquaculture that will create employment and business opportunities in coastal communities; provide safe, sustainable seafood; and complement NOAA’s comprehensive strategy for maintaining healthy and productive marine ecosystems and vibrant coastal communities. The Office of Aquaculture integrates and coordinates the agency’s aquaculture policies, research, outreach, and international obligations.

In June 2011, NOAA and the Department of Commerce released complementary national aquaculture policies that support sustainable marine aquaculture in the United States. These policies will guide our actions and decisions on aquaculture and provide a national approach for supporting sustainable aquaculture.

Source: FishWatch U.S. Seafood Facts

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