Two U.S. regions already have been selected as Aquaculture Opportunity Areas, or AOAs, as part of the Trump Administration’s executive order in May to advance the expansion of U.S. seafood production in federal waters from three to 200 miles offshore.

The two regions are in the Gulf of Mexico and off Southern California. NOAA’s Aquaculture Program is tasked with identifying 10 AOAs over the next five years.  The Opportunity Areas will use existing infrastructure, such as docks, processing plants, and transportation routes in selected regions to create new sustainable economic opportunities.

Danielle Blacklock, director of NOAA Fisheries’ Office of Aquaculture explained more at a recent SeafoodSource webinar –

“We’re looking for places that are appropriate in multiple different ways – they need to be appropriate environmentally or ecologically, meaning that areas have the right kind of current flow, the right depth, but they also need to be appropriate socially so we’re looking to minimize user conflict. We’re not going to be in shipping lanes and we’re looking to stay out of traditional fishing grounds. And we’re also trying to make sure that they are economically appropriate, meaning that they are close enough to a port that landing their harvest is not too much of a challenge.”

There is no predetermined size for an AOA and they could vary depending on what species of fish, shellfish and seaweeds are being grown.

And while the Opportunity Areas are set for federal waters, Blacklock said NOAA hopes to also collaborate with states for AOAs in their regions.

The state of Washington got onboard with NOAA Aquaculture a few years ago and it helped drive shellfish development on the west coast. That could have some appeal for Alaska, which has banned fish farming since the 1980s.

Paul Doremus is Chief Operating Officer for NOAA Fisheries.

 “There is a very vibrant mariculture industry in Alaska and an enormous amount of interest in seaweed production and various mollusks and shellfish. This also is a path to diversifying the seafood sector and something that a lot of folks in Alaska are very excited about. They are not excited about finfish so that is unlikely to happen.”

The public can comment through December 22 on the Aquaculture Opportunity Areas being selected and national listening sessions are scheduled for November, including one starting at 2pm today (Thursday).

Comment at:​#!docketDetail;​D=​NOAA-NMFS-2020-0118 

National Listening Sessions
November 5, 2020
6:00–8:00 p.m. ET
Southern California Listening Session
November 12, 2020
9:00–11:00 a.m. PT
Gulf of Mexico Listening Session
November 17, 2020
1:00–3:00 p.m. ET
National Listening Session
November 19, 2020
1:00–3:00 p.m. ET