A presidential order released in early May is likely to help with aquaculture research in North Carolina, including here in Carteret County.
Written by: Mike Shutak /CarolinaCoastOnline.com
The order was released May 7 in the Federal Register. According to its stated purpose, more than 85% of seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported “despite America’s bountiful aquatic resources.” The order states the country needs a “vibrant and competitive seafood industry” to create jobs, boost the economy and provide food for the country.
“More effective permitting related to offshore aquaculture and additional streamlining of fishery regulations have the potential to revolutionize American seafood production, enhance rural prosperity and improve the quality of American lives,” the order continues.
A representative from N.C. Sea Grant, the N.C. State University-based branch of the national Sea Grant College Program, said while offshore aquaculture hasn’t become a focus in North Carolina yet, this order should help provide additional research funding to inform the state’s aquaculture industry.
NCSG Extension Director Frank Lopez said the novel coronavirus is proving to be a challenge for the aquaculture industry.
“Restaurant closures have impacted the single oyster market dramatically,” he said, “which is the largest market for North Carolina mariculturists. In the short term, growers will need assistance in keeping their businesses viable.”
Mr. Lopez said despite these troubles, it’s still likely the industry will grow, due to the increasing need for national food security.
“There’s still a lot of interest from prospective growers,” he said, “and Sea Grant has been working with partners like Carteret Community College to explore other species to diversify aquaculture operations and find additional markets for products.”
While the presidential order looks like it may assist with aquaculture growth in North Carolina, its effects on commercial seafood are less certain. N.C. Fisheries Association Executive Director Glenn Skinner said it’s too early to know if it will boost the state’s fisheries.
“There have been no recommendations for actions to reduce burdens on domestic fishing at this point,” he said. “It’s always nice to have a sitting president recognize the (importance) of our nation’s seafood industry and also acknowledge the issues affecting our industry. But it’s too early to tell if these concerns will result in meaningful actions.”
Mr. Skinner said the association is “hopeful that the president’s recognition of these issues will start a conversation that’s long overdue, and lead to increased access to the resource and better markers for N.C. fishermen.”
According to the order, by “removing outdated and unnecessarily burdensome regulations; strengthening efforts to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing; improving the transparency and efficiency of environmental review and renewing our focus on long-term strategic planning to facilitate aquaculture projects we can protect our aquatic environments, revitalize our nation’s seafood industry, get more Americans back to work and put healthy, safe food on our families’ tables.”
To these ends, the order directs federal agencies to take a suite of actions. A big focus is aquaculture.
The order directs agencies that conduct environmental reviews or give authorization for aquaculture projects to complete them within two years from the publication of a given project’s notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement. The directive is for aquaculture projects requiring review or authorization from two or more agencies.
The order further directs the U.S. Secretary of Commerce to consult with other federal, regional, state and tribal officials and identify at least two geographic areas with suitable locations for commercial aquaculture. The areas must be identified by May 2021, and within two years of identifying the areas, officials must complete a programmatic EIS for each one to assess potential effects of siting aquaculture facilities there.
To improve regulatory transparency for aquaculture, the order directs the SOC to create a guidance document on federal regulatory requirements, federal and state agencies involved in aquaculture permitting and operations and identify federal grant programs for aquaculture. The document is due by early January and must be provided online and updated at least every 18 months.
Federal officials created a National Aquaculture Development Plan as part of the National Aquaculture Act of 1980. The order seeks to update this plan if necessary and directs the SOC, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and the Joint Subcommittee on Aquaculture to assess the plan to see if it needs revision. The assessment is due by early November.
The assessment will become a regular responsibility, and the secretaries and subcommittee are to assess the plan at least every three years.
The order also has directives that relate to commercial fishing. It directs the SOC to request regional fishery management councils submit a prioritized list of recommended actions to reduce burdens on domestic fishing and increase production in sustainable fisheries, including a proposal for initiating each recommended action within a year of the order’s date. The list is due by early November.
The secretary is also directed to submit by early May 2021 a report evaluating the recommendations, which will be updated annually for the following two years.
Dealing with unlawful fishing is also a focus of the order. It directs the secretary to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking to implement the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization Agreement on Port State Measure to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing. The notice is due by early August.