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entitled 'Offshore Marine Aquaculture: Multiple Administrative and 
Environmental Issues Need to Be Addressed in Establishing a U.S. 
Regulatory Framework' which was released on May 9, 2008. 

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Report to the Chairman, Committee on Natural Resources, House of 
Representatives: 

United States Government Accountability Office: 

GAO: 

May 2008: 

Offshore Marine Aquaculture: 

Multiple Administrative and Environmental Issues Need to Be Addressed 
in Establishing a U.S. Regulatory Framework: 

Offshore Marine Aquaculture: 

GAO-08-594: 

GAO Highlights: 

Highlights of GAO-08-594, a report to the Chairman, Committee on 
Natural Resources, House of Representatives. 

Why GAO Did This Study: 

U. S. aquaculture—the raising of fish and shellfish in captivity—has 
generally been confined to nearshore coastal waters or in other water 
bodies, such as ponds, that fall under state regulation. Recently, 
there has been an increased interest in expanding aquaculture to 
offshore waters, which would involve raising fish and shellfish in the 
open ocean, and consequently bringing these types of operations under 
federal regulation. While the offshore expansion has the potential to 
increase U.S. aquaculture production, no comprehensive legislative or 
regulatory framework to manage such an expansion exists. Instead, 
multiple federal agencies have authority to regulate different aspects 
of offshore aquaculture under a variety of existing laws that were not 
designed for this purpose. In this context, GAO was asked to identify 
key issues that should be addressed in the development of an effective 
regulatory framework for U.S. offshore aquaculture. In conducting its 
assessment, GAO administered a questionnaire to a wide variety of key 
aquaculture stakeholders; analyzed laws, regulations, and key studies; 
and visited states that regulate nearshore aquaculture industries. 

Although GAO is not making any recommendations, this review emphasizes 
the need to carefully consider a wide array of key issues as a 
regulatory framework for offshore aquaculture is developed. Agencies 
that provided official comments generally agreed with the report. 

What GAO Found: 

In developing a regulatory framework for offshore aquaculture, it is 
important to consider a wide array of issues, which can be grouped into 
four main areas. 

Program administration: Addressing the administration of an offshore 
program at the federal level is an important aspect of a regulatory 
framework. Stakeholders that GAO contacted and key studies that GAO 
reviewed identified specific roles and responsibilities for federal 
agencies, states, and regional fishery management councils. Most 
stakeholders and the studies agreed that the National Oceanic and 
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) should be the lead federal agency and 
emphasized that coordination with other federal agencies will also be 
important. In addition, stakeholders and some of the studies 
recommended that the states play an important role in the development 
and implementation of an offshore aquaculture program. 

Permitting and site selection: It will also be important to establish a 
regulatory process that clearly identifies where aquaculture facilities 
can be located and for how long. For example, many stakeholders stated 
that offshore facilities will need the legal right, through a permit or 
lease, to occupy an area of the ocean. However, stakeholders varied on 
the specific terms of the permits or leases, including their duration. 
Some stakeholders said that longer permits could make it easier for 
investors to recoup their investments, while others said that shorter 
ones could facilitate closer scrutiny of environmental impacts. This 
variability is also reflected in the approaches taken by states that 
regulate aquaculture in their waters. One state issues 20-year leases 
while another issues shorter leases. Stakeholders supported various 
approaches for siting offshore facilities, such as case-by-case site 
evaluations and prepermitting some locations. 

Environmental management: A process to assess and mitigate the 
environmental impacts of offshore operations is another important 
aspect of a regulatory framework. For example, many stakeholders told 
GAO of the value of reviewing the potential cumulative environmental 
impacts of offshore operations over a broad ocean area before any 
facilities are sited. About half of them said that a facility-by-
facility environmental review should also be required. Two states 
currently require facility-level reviews for operations in state 
waters. In addition, stakeholders, key studies, and state regulators 
generally supported an adaptive monitoring approach to ensure 
flexibility in monitoring changing environmental conditions. Other 
important areas to address include policies to mitigate the potential 
impacts of escaped fish and to remediate environmental damage. 

Research: Finally, a regulatory framework needs to include a federal 
research component to help fill current gaps in knowledge about 
offshore aquaculture. For example, stakeholders supported federally 
funded research on developing (1) alternative fish feeds, (2) best 
management practices to minimize environmental impacts, (3) data on how 
escaped aquaculture fish might impact wild fisheries, and (4) 
strategies to breed and raise fish while effectively managing disease. 
A few researchers said that the current process of funding research for 
aquaculture is not adequate because the research grants are funded over 
periods that are too short to accommodate certain types of research, 
such as hatchery research and offshore demonstration projects. 

What GAO Recommends: 

To view the full product, including the scope and methodology, click on 
[hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-08-594]. For more 
information, contact Anu K. Mittal at (202) 512-3841 or 
mittala@gao.gov. 

[End of section] 

Contents: 

Letter: 

Results in Brief: 

Background: 

It Is Important to Consider Many Issues in Four Key Areas When 
Developing a Regulatory Framework for Offshore Aquaculture: 

Concluding Observations: 

Agency Comments and Our Evaluation: 

Appendix I: Objective, Scope, and Methodology: 

Appendix II: Stakeholders Consulted by GAO Regarding a Regulatory 
Framework for Offshore Aquaculture: 

Appendix III: Comments from the Department of Commerce: 

Appendix IV: Comments from the Environmental Protection Agency: 

Appendix V: Comments from the Department of Agriculture: 

Appendix VI: GAO Contact and Staff Acknowledgments: 

Table: 

Table 1: Agencies' Regulatory Responsibilities and Authorities for 
Offshore Aquaculture: 

Figure: 

Figure 1: Examples of Cages Used in Nearshore and Offshore Aquaculture: 

Abbreviations: 

Corps: Army Corps of Engineers: 

EPA: Environmental Protection Agency: 

NEPA: National Environmental Policy Act: 

NOAA: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: 

NPDES: National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System: 

PEIS: programmatic environmental impact statement: 

USDA: U.S. Department of Agriculture: 

United States Government Accountability Office: 

Washington, DC 20548: 

May 9, 2008: 

The Honorable Nick J. Rahall II: 
Chairman: 
Committee on Natural Resources: 
House of Representatives: 

Dear Mr. Chairman: 

The U.S. aquaculture industry--which primarily raises fish and 
shellfish in captivity--is relatively small compared with that of other 
countries. According to the most recent data available from the Food 
and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the United States 
was the tenth largest aquaculture producer in the world in 
2004.[Footnote 1] Generally, U.S. aquaculture takes place in nearshore 
marine waters or onshore--such as in ponds or tanks--that fall under 
the jurisdiction of individual states. Offshore marine aquaculture, 
which involves raising fish in cages and shellfish attached to 
underwater ropes in open-ocean federal waters, has the potential to 
increase U.S. aquaculture production. A move to offshore operations 
would mean that aquaculture facilities would be sited in federally 
regulated waters that generally extend from 3 to 200 nautical miles 
from the U.S. coast. To date, no offshore aquaculture operations exist 
in U.S. federal waters. However, a few small-scale commercial and 
research operations are ongoing in state or territorial waters in 
Hawaii, New Hampshire, and Puerto Rico, which have conditions similar 
to the offshore environment such as deep water, rapid currents, and 
large waves. 

With some recent advances in offshore aquaculture technologies and the 
existence of some open-ocean commercial and research operations in 
state waters, the aquaculture industry is increasingly interested in 
expanding to offshore areas. Proponents of offshore aquaculture have 
argued that it can increase production, while potentially alleviating 
some of the environmental concerns that have been associated with 
aquaculture in nearshore areas. For example, nutrients from nearshore 
aquaculture facilities have, in some cases, decreased the diversity of 
organisms living in and on the ocean floor--known as the benthic 
community. Some have suggested that faster currents and deeper waters 
in offshore areas will disperse these nutrients before they can be 
deposited on the ocean floor. However, others believe that significant 
environmental concerns remain and should be addressed before the United 
States authorizes an offshore aquaculture program. For example, fish 
may escape from an aquaculture facility, whether nearshore or offshore, 
and interbreed with wild fish, potentially reducing the ability of wild 
fish to survive. In addition, several nearshore aquaculture facilities 
have faced challenges in keeping aquaculture-raised fish free from 
diseases, and offshore facilities could face similar challenges as 
well. Also, diseases can be transmitted between aquaculture and wild 
populations, potentially harming both.[Footnote 2] Finally, the feeds 
currently used in aquaculture production rely, in part, on ingredients 
derived from wild-caught fish, raising concerns that an expanded 
aquaculture industry could result in over-fishing certain species, such 
as anchovies, which are used in aquaculture feeds. 

Currently, multiple federal agencies have the authority to regulate 
different aspects of offshore aquaculture, under a variety of existing 
laws that were not designed for this purpose. Additionally, there is no 
lead federal agency for regulating offshore aquaculture, and no 
comprehensive law directly addresses how it should be administered, 
regulated, and monitored. The key federal agencies include the National 
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which has the authority 
to protect the marine environment from potential negative impacts from 
a variety of sources, including aquaculture. In this regard, NOAA 
evaluates proposals for new facilities in the marine environment, such 
as those for aquaculture or oil exploration, to ensure that marine 
mammals, endangered species, and national marine sanctuary resources 
are protected. NOAA also coordinates with eight regional fishery 
management councils to manage fishing activity and protect fish habitat 
in federal waters.[Footnote 3] In addition, the U.S. Army Corps of 
Engineers (Corps) issues permits for structures in navigable waters, 
such as aquaculture net pens where fish are raised, to ensure that 
navigation is not impeded. Similarly, the Environmental Protection 
Agency (EPA) issues permits to limit the release of pollutants from 
aquaculture facilities into U.S. waters. 

This complex structure of federal responsibilities for offshore 
aquaculture has led aquaculture researchers, regulators, those who 
operate aquaculture facilities (aquaculturists), and environmentalists 
to advocate for a coordinated approach to regulating offshore 
aquaculture in the United States. In 2005 and 2007, the administration 
developed legislative proposals to provide a new regulatory framework 
for offshore aquaculture.[Footnote 4] The 2007 legislative proposal was 
introduced in the House and Senate but has not progressed any farther 
toward becoming law. Within this context, you asked us to identify key 
issues that should be addressed in the development of an effective 
regulatory framework for U.S. offshore aquaculture. 

To conduct this work, we reviewed federal laws and regulations, as well 
as a wide range of studies on offshore aquaculture, including four key 
studies.[Footnote 5] These key studies--by the Marine Aquaculture Task 
Force, the University of Delaware, the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, 
and the Pew Oceans Commission--brought together ocean policy 
stakeholders to examine, among other things, potential regulatory 
frameworks for offshore aquaculture. Throughout the report, we cite 
those studies that reached similar conclusions or made similar 
recommendations on particular policy issues. If a study is not cited 
for a particular policy issue, it is because the study did not address 
that issue. If a study is not cited for a particular policy issue, that 
study did not address the policy issue. We also visited the states with 
active nearshore fish aquaculture industries--Hawaii, Maine, and 
Washington--and met with state and federal regulators to discuss state 
regulatory frameworks. In addition, we spoke with other relevant 
federal agency officials; representatives from six of the eight 
regional fishery management councils; and state officials in 
California, Florida, and Texas, where new marine aquaculture policies 
are under development. 

Based on this information, we developed a questionnaire to assess the 
level of support for various regulatory policy options. We administered 
the questionnaire to, and conducted follow-up structured interviews 
with, a variety of aquaculture stakeholders, including key federal and 
coastal state officials; representatives from the commercial fishing 
industry, aquaculture industry, and environmental groups; and 
aquaculture researchers. We selected these stakeholders because of 
their knowledge of aquaculture issues and to ensure broad 
representation across government, industry, and the environmental and 
academic sectors, as well as broad geographic representation throughout 
the United States. We sent questionnaires to 28 stakeholders and 
received responses from 25. For purposes of characterizing the results 
from our questionnaire and follow-up interviews of our 25 stakeholders, 
we identified specific meanings for the words we used to quantify the 
results, as follows: "a few" means at least three, and up to five 
stakeholders; "some" means between 6 and 11 stakeholders; "about half" 
means 12 to 14 stakeholders; "a majority" of stakeholders and "many" 
stakeholders both mean 15 to 19 stakeholders; and "most" means 20 
stakeholders or more. We conducted this performance audit from April 
2007 to May 2008 in accordance with generally accepted government 
auditing standards. Those standards require that we plan and perform 
the audit to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a 
reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit 
objective. We believe that the evidence obtained provides a reasonable 
basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objective. 

Results in Brief: 

In developing an effective regulatory framework for U.S. offshore 
aquaculture, it is important to consider a wide array of issues. These 
issues can be grouped into four main areas: program administration, 
permitting and site selection, environmental management, and research. 
Aquaculture stakeholders whom we contacted generally agreed on how to 
address some specific issues within each of these four broad areas, but 
differed on how to address other specific implementation issues. 

* Program administration. Identifying a lead federal agency, as well as 
the roles and responsibilities of other federal agencies and states, is 
key to the administration of an offshore aquaculture program. Most 
stakeholders we contacted said that NOAA should be the lead federal 
agency to (1) manage a permitting or leasing program for offshore 
aquaculture facilities and (2) coordinate with other federal agencies. 
About half of these stakeholders supported NOAA because of its 
expertise in fisheries and oceans management. In addition, most 
stakeholders emphasized that formal agreements among agencies are 
essential to enhance federal coordination and take advantage of each 
agency's unique expertise. For example, EPA has knowledge of 
technologies and practices that control and reduce pollutants from 
marine aquaculture, and the lead federal agency for offshore 
aquaculture could draw on that experience to protect water quality in 
federal waters. Regarding the extent to which states should be involved 
in regulating offshore aquaculture, three of the key studies that we 
reviewed recommended that states be involved in the development and 
implementation of a regulatory framework for offshore aquaculture. In 
addition, a majority of stakeholders agreed that states should be able 
to "opt out" of the offshore aquaculture program. If a state chose to 
opt out, it would be refusing to allow any offshore aquaculture to take 
place in the federal waters adjacent to its state waters. However, the 
stakeholders also said that states that have not opted out of the 
program should not have the authority to veto individual offshore 
aquaculture projects. For example, one stakeholder said he did not 
support allowing states to veto individual offshore aquaculture 
projects because few businesses would be interested in investing time 
and money in obtaining federal offshore aquaculture approvals if any 
individual state could veto the federal decision. Finally, stakeholders 
and studies generally agreed that regional fishery management councils 
should review or comment on offshore aquaculture projects but not be 
able to veto such projects. 

* Permitting and site selection. Permits or leases are important to 
establish the terms and conditions for offshore aquaculture operations. 
Specifically, stakeholders we contacted, and the University of Delaware 
study, emphasized that offshore aquaculturists will need the legal 
right--through a permit or lease--to occupy a given tract of ocean. 
Some stakeholders were concerned that without legal rights defined in a 
permit or lease, aquaculturists might not be able to obtain needed 
business loans. However, stakeholders expressed a range of opinions on 
the specific terms of offshore aquaculture permits and leases. For 
example, some stakeholders supported permits or leases with long time 
frames--20 years or more--to allow investors to recoup their 
investments, while others advocated for permits or leases with shorter 
time frames to ensure close scrutiny of environmental impacts during 
the lease or permit renewal process. In addition, site selection-- 
developing a process to approve offshore aquaculture facility 
locations--is an important component of regulating offshore 
aquaculture. Stakeholders supported a variety of approaches that the 
lead aquaculture agency could use to site new offshore aquaculture 
facilities, including (1) reviewing and approving sites on a case-by- 
case basis and (2) prepermitting locations by approving sites 
independently of and prior to submitting individual facility 
applications. 

* Environmental management. A regulatory process to review, monitor, 
and mitigate the potential environmental impacts of offshore 
aquaculture facilities will also be important. Many stakeholders 
recognized the value of reviewing the potential environmental impacts 
of offshore aquaculture over a broad ocean area before any offshore 
aquaculture facilities are sited--which should involve preparing a 
programmatic environmental impact statement. A few considered this a 
sufficient level of environmental review, while others said that a 
follow-up, facility-specific environmental review should also be 
required. In addition, the majority of stakeholders supported 
conducting environmental monitoring at offshore aquaculture facilities 
to identify changes to the benthic community and disease, among other 
things. Such monitoring is done for nearshore marine aquaculture 
programs in Hawaii, Maine, and Washington, although these states vary 
in the frequency and intensity of monitoring they require. Most 
stakeholders also supported using an adaptive monitoring approach that 
would alter monitoring requirements over time as better information 
became available and help focus on the types of monitoring that are 
demonstrated to be the most appropriate for tracking changes to the 
environment. Finally, stakeholders had varied opinions on policies that 
could be used to mitigate the potential impacts of escaped fish and 
remediate environmental damage. For example, most stakeholders 
supported requiring aquaculturists to develop plans to address fish 
escapes from their proposed facilities. Stakeholders' views varied, 
however, on whether aquaculturists should be allowed to raise 
genetically modified species in offshore aquaculture facilities. 

* Research. Finally, research to address gaps in current knowledge on a 
variety of issues for offshore aquaculture is an important component of 
a regulatory framework. Stakeholders, and the four key studies we 
reviewed, generally agreed that the federal government should fund such 
research. Most stakeholders said that the federal government should 
place particular importance on funding research on (1) developing fish 
feeds that do not rely heavily on harvesting wild fish, (2) developing 
best management practices, (3) exploring how escaped offshore 
aquaculture-raised fish might impact wild fish populations, and (4) 
developing strategies to breed and raise fish while effectively 
managing disease. Currently, NOAA and the U.S. Department of 
Agriculture (USDA) fund research on marine aquaculture through, for 
example, competitive grants. However, some researchers said that grants 
are funded over time periods that are too short to accommodate certain 
types of research. For example, researchers in Hawaii told us that the 
development of healthy breeding fish to supply offshore aquaculture 
operations can often require years of intensive breeding efforts, but 
that it is difficult to obtain consistent research funding over this 
long time period. 

Background: 

Globally, aquaculture production has grown significantly over the past 
50 years, from less than 1.1 million tons around 1950 to about 65.5 
million tons in 2004. A majority of global aquaculture fish and 
shellfish are raised in a freshwater environment and species raised in 
a marine environment make up about 36 percent of aquaculture 
production. Marine aquaculture is dominated by high-value fish, such as 
salmon. Many countries are producing marine fish, though a NOAA 
official indicated that most production is occurring in shallow, 
sheltered areas relatively close to shore. A few countries, such as 
Ireland, have expressed interest in or are developing policy frameworks 
to regulate offshore aquaculture in the open ocean. To date, however, a 
NOAA official said that no countries have substantial offshore 
aquaculture industries with facilities sited in open-ocean 
environments. 

The United States' aquaculture industry includes both onshore and 
nearshore operations and produces both fish, such as salmon and 
catfish, and shellfish, such as oysters. Onshore aquaculture facilities 
are primarily involved in raising freshwater species, such as catfish. 
Marine aquaculture facilities in the United States are generally 
located in waters close to shore and in sheltered conditions, and they 
most frequently raise oysters, mussels, clams, and salmon. The salmon 
aquaculture industry in the United States is concentrated in Maine and 
Washington, although the industry is relatively small compared with the 
global salmon aquaculture industry, accounting for less than 1 percent 
of the world's production.[Footnote 6] 

During the last 10 years, four small-scale aquaculture facilities began 
nearshore open-ocean operations in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and New 
Hampshire, in conditions similar to those found offshore. All four 
facilities grow fish species native to their regions, such as moi and 
kahala in Hawaii, cobia in Puerto Rico, and cod and halibut in New 
Hampshire. The New Hampshire project also grows mussels. These open- 
ocean facilities and similar facilities that may be established in an 
offshore environment require technology that differs from what is 
generally needed by nearshore facilities. For example, open-ocean 
facilities need stronger cages and anchors that can withstand the 
strong currents and storms that are prevalent offshore. Furthermore, 
offshore aquaculture will face challenges such as inclement weather, 
which may prevent offshore aquaculturists from accessing cages due to 
their location far from shore and could delay essential activities such 
as feeding. 

Figure 1: Examples of Cages Used in Nearshore and Offshore Aquaculture: 

This figure is an illustration of examples of cages used in nearshore 
and offshore aquaculture. 

[See PDF for image] 

Source: GAO. 

[End of figure] 

However, there are concerns that offshore aquaculture may have adverse 
environmental impacts. Specifically, excess nutrients or chemicals from 
fish food, medication, and fish waste may alter water quality and may 
also change the composition of the benthic community. Although the 
environmental impact of an offshore aquaculture industry is uncertain 
because of a lack of data specific to large-scale, offshore aquaculture 
operations, data from existing small-scale, open-ocean facilities in 
state waters provide some information about this kind of impact. 
Studies of one small-scale commercial facility in Hawaii show that some 
water quality changes occurred near the aquaculture cages,[Footnote 7] 
but that these changes were within the allowable limits of the 
facility's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) 
permit.[Footnote 8] Also, the data from the site indicated a slight 
change in the benthic community, but researchers noted that it returned 
to its original composition after the cages were not used for 6 months. 
Studies of other open-ocean sites in state or territorial waters found 
little to no impact on water quality or the benthic community.[Footnote 
9] 

Multiple federal agencies, including NOAA, the Corps, EPA, and USDA, 
have regulatory authorities relevant to various aspects of offshore 
aquaculture operations (see table 1). 

Table 1: Agencies' Regulatory Responsibilities and Authorities for 
Offshore Aquaculture: 

Agency (Department): NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service 
(Commerce); 
Responsibilities: Consult with regulating agencies regarding the impact 
of permitted activities on living marine resources, marine mammals, 
essential fish habitat, and endangered species; 
Authority: Marine Mammal Protection Act; 
Citation: 16 U.S.C. §1371. 

Agency (Department): NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service 
(Commerce); 
Responsibilities: Consult with regulating agencies regarding the impact 
of permitted activities on living marine resources, marine mammals, 
essential fish habitat, and endangered species; 
Authority: Endangered Species Act; 
Citation: 16 U.S.C. §1536. 

Agency (Department): NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service 
(Commerce); 
Responsibilities: Consult with regulating agencies regarding the impact 
of permitted activities on living marine resources, marine mammals, 
essential fish habitat, and endangered species; 
Responsibilities: Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management 
Act; 
Citation: 16 U.S.C. §1855. 

Agency (Department): NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service 
(Commerce); 
Responsibilities: Consult with regulating agencies regarding the impact 
of permitted activities on living marine resources, marine mammals, 
essential fish habitat, and endangered species; 
Authority: Agency (Department): Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act; 
Citation: Agency (Department): 16 U.S.C. §661 et seq. 

Agency (Department): NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service 
(Commerce); 
Responsibilities: Regulate fishing activities, including aquaculture. 
Performed in consultation with regional fishery management councils; 
Authority: Agency (Department): Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation 
and Management Act; 
Citation: Agency (Department): 16 U.S.C. §1801 et seq. 

Agency (Department): NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service 
(Commerce); 
Responsibilities: Cooperate with other federal agencies in implementing 
the National Aquaculture Development Plan; 
Authority: Agency (Department): National Aquaculture Act of 1980; 
Citation: Agency (Department): 16 U.S.C. §§2801-2810. 

Agency (Department): NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service 
(Commerce); 
Responsibilities: NOAA's National Ocean Service (Commerce): Enforce 
prohibitions on the sale, trade, or transportation of fish or wildlife 
harvested or attained in violation of federal, state, tribal, or 
foreign laws; 
Authority: Agency (Department)NOAA's National Ocean Service (Commerce): 
Lacey Act; 
Citation: Agency (Department)NOAA's National Ocean Service (Commerce): 
16 U.S.C. §§3371- 3378. 

Agency (Department): NOAA's National Ocean Service (Commerce); 
Responsibilities: Review and approve state coastal management programs, 
which identify permissible water uses in the coastal zone. Oversee 
federal consistency with these programs; 
Authority: Coastal Zone Management Act; 
Citation: 16 U.S.C. §1451 et seq. 

Agency (Department): NOAA's National Ocean Service (Commerce); 
Responsibilities: Regulate activities in national marine sanctuaries to 
protect sanctuary resources; 
Authority: National Marine Sanctuaries Act; 
Citation: Agency (Department)Corps (Defense): 16 U.S.C. §1431 et seq. 

Agency (Department): Corps (Defense); 
Responsibilities: Regulate structures, such as aquaculture cages, in 
navigable waters through "Section 10" permits; 
Authority: Rivers and Harbors Act; 
Citation: 33 U.S.C. §403. 

Agency (Department): Corps (Defense); 
Responsibilities: Regulate structures, such as aquaculture cages, in 
navigable waters through "Section 10" permits; 
Authority: Agency (Department)EPA: Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act; 
Citation: Agency (Department)EPA: 43 U.S.C. §1333. 

Agency (Department): EPA; 
Responsibilities: Regulate discharges to navigable waters through NPDES 
permits. Often authorizes states to issue NPDES permits for discharges 
to navigable waters within a state; 
Authority: Clean Water Act; 
Citation: 33 U.S.C. §§1342, 1343. 

Agency (Department): Fish and Wildlife Service (Interior); 
Responsibilities: Consult with permitting agencies regarding the impact 
of permitted activities on fish and wildlife, including endangered 
species; 
Authority: Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act; 
Citation: 16 U.S.C. §661 et seq. 

Agency (Department): Fish and Wildlife Service (Interior); 
Responsibilities: Consult with permitting agencies regarding the impact 
of permitted activities on fish and wildlife, including endangered 
species; 
Authority: Endangered Species Act; 
Citation: 16 U.S.C. §1536. 

Agency (Department): Fish and Wildlife Service (Interior); 
Responsibilities: Regulate the importation and interstate 
transportation of fish under humane and healthful conditions; 
Authority: Lacey Act; 
Citation: Minerals Management Service (Interior): 18 U.S.C. §42. 

Agency (Department): Minerals Management Service (Interior); 
Responsibilities: Authorize the use of existing facilities on the outer 
continental shelf, such as oil and gas platforms, for marine-related 
activities, including aquaculture; 
Authority: Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act; 
Citation: 43 U.S.C. §1337. 

Agency (Department): Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service 
(Agriculture); 
Responsibilities: Regulate the movement of aquatic animals in 
interstate and foreign commerce and respond to aquatic animal disease 
outbreaks; 
Authority: Animal Health Protection Act; 
Citation: 7 U.S.C. §8301 et seq. 

Agency (Department): Coast Guard (Homeland Security); 
Responsibilities: Require structures that are located in waters under 
the jurisdiction of the United States to be marked with lights and 
signals to protect navigation; 
Authority: Rivers and Harbors Act; 
Citation: 14 U.S.C. §85. 

Source: GAO. 

[End of table] 

In addition to the responsibilities described in table 1, NOAA's 
Aquaculture Program coordinates the agency's aquaculture research 
activities and conducts outreach and industry development efforts, such 
as sponsoring the 2007 National Marine Aquaculture Summit. Similarly, 
USDA also chairs the interagency Joint Subcommittee on Aquaculture 
which, among other things, is creating a federal plan for managing 
aquatic animal health and has convened a science and technology task 
force to update the federal strategic plan for aquaculture 
research.[Footnote 10] 

In addition to agency-specific responsibilities and authorities, all 
federal agencies are required to comply with the National Environmental 
Policy Act (NEPA).[Footnote 11] Under NEPA, agencies evaluate the 
likely environmental effects of projects that could significantly 
affect the environment. For example, permits for aquaculture facilities 
or oil platforms might necessitate such a review. An agency may also 
elect to prepare a programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS). 
A PEIS could either be prepared to help develop regulations for an 
industry by evaluating its potential for environmental, social, and 
economic impacts or to evaluate proposed actions sharing geographic and 
programmatic similarities after regulations have been established, such 
as siting a number of aquaculture facilities in the same general 
location that plan to raise the same species. 

If an offshore aquaculture industry develops, a variety of individuals 
and organizations will have a stake in how the industry is regulated 
and how it affects the environment. Specifically, federal agencies 
would be stakeholders because they would regulate the offshore 
aquaculture industry, or guide and fund public research on offshore 
aquaculture. Coastal states would be stakeholders because an offshore 
aquaculture industry could potentially have impacts on natural 
resources in their state waters and provide economic benefits to 
coastal communities. The commercial fishing industry would be a 
stakeholder both because it may have to share ocean space with 
aquaculturists, and the offshore aquaculture industry could affect the 
environment that supports wild fish populations. The aquaculture 
industry would be a stakeholder because it is interested in developing 
offshore facilities. Environmental groups would be stakeholders because 
they are interested in protecting marine resources, and the offshore 
aquaculture industry could affect those resources. Finally, researchers 
would be stakeholders because they are technical experts and want to 
ensure proper application of scientific knowledge. 

Over the last 5 years, four key studies have been conducted with 
stakeholder input that examined, among other things, potential 
regulatory frameworks for offshore aquaculture. These four key studies 
are as follows: 

* The Marine Aquaculture Task Force study was developed by a group of 
scientists, legal scholars, aquaculturists, and policy experts who 
sought to gather information about aquaculture and its positive and 
negative effects. The Marine Aquaculture Task Force's approach to 
gathering such information included meeting with aquaculturists, marine 
scientists, fishermen, public officials, and others in regional 
meetings in the states of Alaska, Florida, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and 
Washington. 

* The University of Delaware study was prepared by an interdisciplinary 
team with backgrounds in marine policy, law, industry, state 
government, environmental protection, and marine science. This study 
made recommendations for developing a comprehensive regulatory 
framework for sustainable offshore aquaculture in the United States 
based on information from literature reviews and consultations with 
stakeholders through national and regional workshops throughout the 
United States. 

* The Pew Oceans Commission study was developed by a bipartisan, 
independent group to identify policies and practices necessary to 
restore and protect living marine resources in U.S. waters and the 
ocean and coastal habitats on which they depend. The Pew Commission 
brought together a diverse group of American leaders from the worlds of 
science, fishing, conservation, government, education, business, and 
philanthropy. The Pew Commission conducted a national dialogue on ocean 
issues by convening a series of 15 regional meetings, public hearings, 
and workshops to listen to those who live and work along the coasts. 

* The U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy study, which was required by the 
Oceans Act of 2000, established findings and developed recommendations 
for a coordinated and comprehensive national ocean policy.[Footnote 12] 
The U.S. Commission had 16 members drawn from diverse backgrounds, 
including individuals nominated by the leadership in the United States 
Senate and House of Representatives. The U.S. Commission held 16 public 
meetings around the country and conducted 18 regional site visits, 
receiving testimony from hundreds of people. The study includes 
detailed recommendations for reform of oceans policy. 

It Is Important to Consider Many Issues in Four Key Areas When 
Developing a Regulatory Framework for Offshore Aquaculture: 

A wide array of issues within four key areas--program administration, 
permitting and site selection, environmental management, and research-
-are important to consider when developing an offshore aquaculture 
program for the United States. Specifically, identifying a lead federal 
agency, as well as the roles and responsibilities of other federal 
agencies and states, are key to the administration of an offshore 
aquaculture program. In addition, permits or leases are important to 
establish the terms and conditions for offshore aquaculture operations. 
Site selection is also an important component of regulating offshore 
aquaculture. Moreover, reviewing environmental impacts of, and 
monitoring environmental conditions at, offshore aquaculture facilities 
are key to identifying the scope and nature of potential environmental 
issues that may require mitigation. Finally, it is important that a 
regulatory framework include research to address gaps in current 
knowledge on a variety of issues related to offshore aquaculture. 
Stakeholders whom we contacted generally agreed on how to address some 
specific issues within each of the four key areas but differed on many 
other issues. 

Key Program Administration Issues: 

Aquaculture stakeholders that we contacted and key studies that we 
reviewed identified specific roles and responsibilities for federal 
agencies, states, and regional fishery management councils. 
Specifically, most stakeholders and all four studies we reviewed agreed 
that NOAA should be the lead federal agency for offshore aquaculture 
and emphasized that coordination with other federal agencies will be 
important. Moreover, the majority of stakeholders we contacted said 
NOAA should be the lead agency for research on offshore aquaculture, 
although stakeholders were evenly divided about whether NOAA or USDA 
should be responsible for promoting or supporting the offshore 
aquaculture industry. In addition, stakeholders and three of the key 
studies we reviewed recommended that states be involved in the 
development and implementation of a regulatory framework for offshore 
aquaculture.[Footnote 13] Stakeholders told us that states should have 
the ability to opt out of the offshore aquaculture program, but that 
those states that have chosen to participate should not have the 
ability to veto individual offshore aquaculture facility proposals. 
Finally, stakeholders generally supported regional fishery management 
councils having the opportunity to comment on individual offshore 
aquaculture facility proposals but did not support councils having 
other authorities, such as veto authority, over individual proposals. 

Roles and Responsibilities of Federal Agencies: 

Most stakeholders that we contacted and the four key studies that we 
reviewed agreed that NOAA should be the lead federal agency for 
offshore aquaculture, both to manage a new permitting or leasing 
program for aquaculture in federal waters and to coordinate federal 
responsibilities for offshore aquaculture. About half of the 
stakeholders said they supported NOAA as the lead offshore aquaculture 
agency because of its experience managing ocean resources. One study, 
conducted by the University of Delaware, also stated that NOAA was the 
best choice for a lead agency because of its extensive expertise and 
knowledge of marine science and policy. However, a few stakeholders we 
spoke with who did not agree that NOAA should be the lead agency said 
that other agencies, such as USDA or the Corps, would be better 
equipped to serve as the lead agency. Two of the stakeholders who 
supported USDA explained that since aquaculture is ultimately an 
agricultural activity, USDA would be best able to effectively regulate 
the industry and coordinate with other agencies. One stakeholder, who 
supported the Corps as the lead agency, said that since the Corps is 
currently the de facto lead federal agency for aquaculture permitting 
in state waters, the Corps should also assume that role for offshore 
aquaculture in federal waters. 

Most stakeholders, and the University of Delaware study, stated that it 
was important for NOAA to develop formal agreements, such as 
regulations or memorandums of understanding, with other federal 
agencies to define the responsibilities, authorities, and procedures 
for regulating offshore aquaculture. Some stakeholders also suggested 
that close coordination with agencies will allow NOAA to draw on each 
agency's expertise when developing regulations or making permitting 
decisions. For instance, one stakeholder said that EPA has expertise in 
protecting marine water quality in state waters, and the offshore 
aquaculture program could draw on that experience to protect water 
quality in federal waters. Another stakeholder suggested that since 
aquaculture is a food production business, close coordination with USDA 
could draw on USDA's experience in developing food production 
industries. The administration's 2007 legislative proposal for offshore 
aquaculture requires that the Department of Commerce consult with other 
federal agencies, as appropriate, while developing regulations for an 
offshore aquaculture program. 

Despite strong support for NOAA as the lead agency for offshore 
aquaculture, stakeholders were about evenly divided on whether those 
responsibilities should be assigned to a new NOAA office or an existing 
NOAA office. One stakeholder who supported creating a new office in 
NOAA said that existing offices currently focus on the conservation of 
marine resources and that aquaculture is a fundamentally different 
enterprise meriting a separate office that can focus on developing the 
aquaculture industry. The studies conducted by the University of 
Delaware and the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy also suggested that a 
new office be created to manage the offshore aquaculture program. Of 
the stakeholders who said that an existing office should manage the 
offshore aquaculture program, a few mentioned that this would keep NOAA 
small and streamlined. 

A majority of stakeholders also said that NOAA should be responsible 
for managing federal research related to offshore aquaculture, 
including funding marine aquaculture research and the development of 
offshore aquaculture technologies. A few stakeholders emphasized that 
NOAA should coordinate on both research and technology development with 
other agencies, particularly USDA. Stakeholders who did not support 
NOAA as the lead agency for technology development generally supported 
USDA or said that the federal government should not support technology 
development at all. One stakeholder supported USDA because he said it 
has a superior record in developing aquaculture technology for both 
freshwater and marine aquaculture. Another stakeholder emphasized that 
he did not support government funding for offshore aquaculture 
technology development because funding should come from the aquaculture 
industry, particularly for any technologies needed to comply with 
environmental regulations. 

Stakeholders were also about evenly divided on whether NOAA or USDA 
should be responsible for promoting and supporting the offshore 
aquaculture industry, though a few stakeholders did not think this was 
a role for the federal government. One stakeholder who said that NOAA 
should promote the offshore aquaculture industry suggested that NOAA 
should restructure its mission to support not just offshore aquaculture 
but the production of sustainable seafood from wild fisheries, as well 
as offshore aquaculture. Another stakeholder said that USDA is the 
logical choice to promote and support the offshore aquaculture industry 
because it has experience marketing agricultural products. In contrast, 
a few stakeholders said that promotion or support of the offshore 
aquaculture industry is not a role for the federal government. One 
stakeholder objected to government promotion of offshore aquaculture 
because it amounts to the government promoting one industry over 
another, for instance, promoting offshore aquaculture at the expense of 
other types of aquaculture, such as nearshore shellfish aquaculture. 

Finally, stakeholders expressed concern over having one agency, such as 
NOAA, be responsible for both regulating and promoting the offshore 
aquaculture industry because of the potential conflict of interest 
between those two responsibilities. One stakeholder suggested that NOAA 
regulate the industry and develop offshore aquaculture technologies and 
that USDA focus on promoting offshore aquaculture. In this context, at 
the state level, Maine, Hawaii, and Washington have each separated 
their regulatory and promotion agencies. Despite Hawaii's and Maine's 
separation of these responsibilities, officials from both states said 
that agencies have the ability to balance these competing 
responsibilities. In fact, one state official in Hawaii stated that 
keeping promotion and regulatory responsibilities together can allow 
officials to share expertise, thereby increasing efficiency and 
resulting in cost savings. A NOAA official said that NOAA's mission is 
to enable marine aquaculture, with appropriate environmental 
safeguards, and that the agency has consistently balanced its missions 
of enabling and regulating other industries. 

Roles and Responsibilities of States: 

Three of the key studies we reviewed recommended that states be 
involved in the development and implementation of a regulatory 
framework for offshore aquaculture.[Footnote 14] For instance, the U.S. 
Commission on Ocean Policy recommended that any proposed federal 
permitting and leasing program be coordinated with aquaculture-related 
regulations developed at the state level to provide regulatory 
consistency to the industry and manage potential environmental impacts 
that cross jurisdictional lines, such as the spread of disease. The 
administration's 2007 legislative proposal for offshore aquaculture 
requires coordination with coastal states during the process of 
establishing regulations for offshore aquaculture. 

In addition, a majority of stakeholders supported a policy that would 
allow states to opt out of the offshore aquaculture program. If a state 
chose to opt out, it would be refusing to allow any offshore 
aquaculture to take place in the federal waters adjacent to its state 
waters. Of those who supported an opt-out provision, a majority said 
that states should be able to opt out of fish aquaculture anywhere in 
the 200 miles of federal waters directly offshore from their state 
waters. A few stakeholders stated that the opt-out provision should 
apply only within a certain distance from shore--ranging from 5 to 12 
miles. The administration's 2007 legislative proposal for offshore 
aquaculture includes a provision that would allow a state to opt out of 
offshore aquaculture within 12 miles of its coast. NOAA officials 
explained that the agency's decision to limit the opt-out provision to 
12 miles was a policy decision that balanced the need to give states a 
reasonable buffer zone and the difficulty of identifying boundaries 
between states out to 200 miles in the exclusive economic zone. For 
example, while it is relatively clear where the boundaries of Alaska's 
state line would be when extended out to 200 miles, state boundaries on 
the New England coast overlap extensively, even relatively close to 
shore. 

Stakeholders who supported providing the states the ability to opt out 
did so for various reasons. A few stakeholders said they supported an 
opt-out provision because offshore aquaculture could still affect a 
state's natural resources. For example, escaped fish could travel into 
state waters and spawn, potentially interbreeding with wild fish 
populations in state waters, which could reduce the ability of wild 
fish to survive. Three stakeholders said that this provision is 
necessary for political reasons--that without the ability for states to 
opt out, it would be difficult to garner enough support to enact 
offshore aquaculture legislation. Stakeholders who opposed the state 
opt-out provision also listed various reasons. A few stakeholders 
argued that states should not make decisions about the use of federal 
resources, and one stakeholder said that allowing states to opt out is 
contrary to a nationally stated goal of increasing domestic seafood 
production. Other stakeholders proposed more flexible opt-out policies. 
For instance, one stakeholder supported a policy that would allow 
states to selectively opt out of particular locations, rather than 
opting out of offshore aquaculture entirely. In addition, a few 
stakeholders mentioned using an "opt-in" policy, in which states would 
need to declare their support for offshore aquaculture before any 
facilities could be located in the waters adjacent to their coasts. 

Regardless of how the opt-out provision is applied, the majority of 
stakeholders agreed that states that participate in the offshore 
aquaculture program should not have the ability to veto individual 
offshore aquaculture projects. One stakeholder was concerned that, if 
states were allowed to veto individual offshore aquaculture projects, 
then this would prevent offshore aquaculture development since few 
businesses would be interested in investing time and money in obtaining 
federal approvals if a state could ultimately veto a federal decision. 
A few stakeholders who opposed veto authority for states explained 
that, since offshore aquaculture would be in waters under federal 
jurisdiction, states should not be allowed to overrule federal 
decisions. 

Stakeholders who supported giving states veto authority said that 
offshore aquaculture could affect states' natural resources. For 
instance, disease could spread from fish in offshore facilities to fish 
in state waters requiring state and federal regulators to coordinate 
closely to manage the disease. A few stakeholders, including NOAA, said 
that states could use the Coastal Zone Management Act--rather than veto 
authority--to challenge offshore aquaculture proposals. For instance, a 
state could determine that a proposed offshore aquaculture facility was 
inconsistent with the state's coastal zone management plan. According 
to NOAA officials, a state could only make this determination if the 
proposed offshore aquaculture facility would clearly violate provisions 
of the state's coastal zone management plan. In addition, one 
stakeholder was concerned that states would not be assured of 
preventing proposals they objected to, since the Secretary of Commerce 
has the authority to override states' objections under certain 
circumstances. 

Finally, although the majority of stakeholders did not support veto 
authority for states participating in the program, most stakeholders 
said that states should have the opportunity to provide input regarding 
proposed offshore aquaculture facilities, such as comments on potential 
environmental impacts or proposed facility locations. Three of the key 
studies we reviewed also recommended that states have the opportunity 
to comment on proposed facilities.[Footnote 15] In particular, the 
Marine Aquaculture Task Force study said that federal agencies should 
use states' comments on proposed facilities to ensure that permits 
issued for offshore aquaculture are integrated with regional marine 
planning efforts and do not undermine the effectiveness of ongoing 
state conservation measures. In its response to our questionnaire, NOAA 
agreed that adjacent states should have an opportunity to provide 
comments regarding proposed projects. 

Roles and Responsibilities of Regional Fishery Management Councils: 

Finally, stakeholders generally agreed on how regional fishery 
management councils should be involved in regulating offshore 
aquaculture. For instance, most stakeholders indicated that councils 
should have the opportunity to provide comments on proposed offshore 
aquaculture projects in their regions. Some stakeholders, including 
NOAA, emphasized that councils should comment on proposed projects to 
ensure that they will not adversely impact wild fisheries or fish 
habitat managed by the councils. The University of Delaware and Marine 
Aquaculture Task Force studies also supported allowing councils to 
review or comment on offshore aquaculture projects. Representatives 
from five of the six councils that we spoke with wanted the opportunity 
to comment on proposed offshore aquaculture projects.[Footnote 16] Most 
stakeholders also agreed that councils should not have veto authority 
for proposed projects within their regions. Some stakeholders did not 
support a veto for councils because they believed the councils are 
dominated by wild fishery interests and might veto projects simply to 
avoid any potential competition in their markets. In contrast, 
representatives from two councils wanted more direct authorities, such 
as the ability to approve or deny proposed offshore aquaculture 
projects. For example, a representative from the Western Pacific 
council said that councils should have this additional authority 
because councils are best positioned to address region-specific issues 
that may not be considered in a nationwide top-down permitting process. 

Most stakeholders also agreed that offshore aquaculture should not be 
subject to some of the regulations that are currently used to manage 
wild fisheries under fishery management plans, including restrictions 
on season of harvest, size of the fish that may be harvested, and the 
method that may be used to harvest fish. Because offshore aquaculture 
is considered fishing under Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and 
Management Act, the councils could impose these types of restrictions 
on offshore aquaculture operations.[Footnote 17] According to NOAA, 
many offshore aquaculture tasks, such as stocking cages outside of 
fishing season and harvesting small fish, would be illegal under 
current regulations for species managed under fishery management plans. 
Therefore, the administration's 2007 legislative proposal for offshore 
aquaculture would exempt offshore aquaculture facilities from fishing 
restrictions under current law.[Footnote 18] The University of Delaware 
study reached a similar conclusion stating that offshore aquaculture 
facilities should be exempt from restrictions that apply to wild 
fisheries. About half of the stakeholders who agreed with this approach 
told us that offshore aquaculture is a completely different enterprise 
from fishing and does not result in an increase or decrease of the wild 
stocks managed by councils. One stakeholder suggested that subjecting 
offshore aquaculture facilities to catch restrictions for wild 
fisheries is like limiting poultry production to duck hunting season. 
Representatives from five of the six councils we interviewed also 
supported exempting offshore aquaculture facilities from catch 
restrictions placed on wild fisheries. However, a representative from 
the South Atlantic council was concerned that it is too soon to enact 
such an exemption since any escapes from offshore aquaculture 
facilities could impact wild fisheries. 

Establishing the Terms and Conditions, and Selecting Appropriate Sites, 
for Offshore Aquaculture: 

Permits or leases are important to establish the terms and conditions 
for offshore aquaculture operations, including authorizing aquaculture 
activities and providing the legal right to occupy an area of the 
ocean.[Footnote 19] In addition, developing a process to select 
appropriate sites was identified as an important component of planning 
for offshore aquaculture facilities and most stakeholders supported a 
variety of approaches to approve aquaculture facility locations. 

Permits or Leases: 

Permits or leases are important to establish the terms and conditions 
for offshore aquaculture operations, including authorizing aquaculture 
activities and providing legal rights to occupy an area of the ocean. 
Several existing federal permits--such as EPA's NPDES permit for water 
quality and the Corps' section 10 permit for structures in navigable 
waters--can regulate specific offshore aquaculture activities, such as 
the release of pollutants into, or the installation of structures in, 
U.S. waters. In addition, according to the University of Delaware study 
and stakeholders we talked to, offshore aquaculturists will need a 
legal right--through a permit or lease--to occupy a given area of the 
ocean. Some stakeholders identified this legal right as important for 
financing offshore aquaculture operations because it would have market 
value and, therefore, could be sold, or used as collateral on a loan to 
allow aquaculturists to secure funding for their projects. 

According to NOAA officials, however, permits are more appropriate than 
leases for aquaculture operations beyond the territorial sea, which 
extends 12 miles from the shore.[Footnote 20] Specifically, NOAA 
officials stated that, under customary international law, it is well 
established that the United States has exclusive rights to regulate 
economic activities, such as fishing and aquaculture, in the U.S. 
Exclusive Economic Zone, which generally extends from 3 to 200 miles 
from shore. While this jurisdiction and authority do not include any 
proprietary rights for waters or submerged lands beyond the territorial 
sea, NOAA officials stated that other types of permits issued by NOAA 
have provided the security of tenure--the right to occupy an area of 
the ocean--necessary for obtaining financing, or selling the permits. 

However, when questioned on the most appropriate vehicles for 
authorizing an offshore aquaculture program, the majority of 
stakeholders told us that an offshore aquaculture program should 
include both permits and leases. Some stakeholders articulated distinct 
and important benefits for both permits and leases. For example, a few 
stakeholders said permits should have shorter time frames to ensure 
compliance with regulations and best management practices while leases 
should grant a long-term right to occupy a given area of the ocean to 
encourage investment.[Footnote 21] One stakeholder said that investors 
may be less receptive to permits as a mechanism for assigning the legal 
right to occupy an area of the ocean because they perceive permits to 
grant fewer legal rights. However, others stated that either a permit 
or lease could be used to secure legal rights and, thereby, encourage 
financial investment. For instance, two stakeholders said that whether 
one identifies a document as a permit or a lease is unimportant as long 
as the document provides legal rights to the area. 

Stakeholders also expressed a range of opinions on the specific types 
of permits or leases that should be issued. Most stakeholders supported 
issuing both commercial and research permits or leases. For example, 
one stakeholder stressed the importance of research permits or leases 
for further developing a commercially viable offshore aquaculture 
industry. In addition, many stakeholders supported issuing emergency 
permits or leases that allow facility relocation in the case of natural 
events such as hurricanes or red tides, but NOAA did not support this 
approach. A NOAA official told us that emergency permits or leases are 
not necessary because offshore aquaculture facilities would be 
difficult to move and, therefore, aquaculturists would be unlikely to 
take advantage of such a permit or lease. NOAA officials emphasized, 
however, that there are other ways, besides emergency permits or 
leases, of addressing emergencies, such as modifying the terms of an 
existing permit to allow facilities to relocate. In addition, 
stakeholders expressed differing opinions about whether to allow short- 
term permits or leases to allow an aquaculturist to test the 
feasibility of a proposed offshore aquaculture facility. For example, 
one stakeholder questioned the utility of short-term permits or leases 
because the costs associated with offshore aquaculture make it 
impractical to operate facilities for a short period of time. Two 
others were concerned that either emergency or short-term permits or 
leases could be used to circumvent permitting requirements associated 
with longer term commercial permits or leases. 

Stakeholders' opinions also varied on the appropriate length for 
commercial permits or leases, with some stakeholders supporting time 
frames of approximately 20 years and others supporting shorter terms 
such as 10 years. Some stakeholders stressed the need for longer 
permits or leases to allow time for the operation to become profitable. 
The states we visited have taken varying approaches on this issue. For 
example, while Maine issues 10-year leases to facilities in nearshore 
state waters, a state official recognized that an offshore facility 
would require a larger investment and, therefore, need a longer term 
permit or lease to recoup initial investments. Hawaii issued 20-year 
leases to its two existing nearshore open-ocean aquaculture facilities. 
Conversely, a state official from Washington supported shorter permit 
or lease lengths because offshore aquaculture is new and, therefore, 
the full impacts on the environment are unknown. Similarly, a few 
stakeholders we spoke with did not support longer terms out of concern 
that permits or leases would be difficult to revoke midterm in cases of 
environmental damage or stressed that if permits had longer terms, then 
regulators should be able to revoke permits early if such damage were 
to occur. The administration's 2007 legislative proposal for offshore 
aquaculture would authorize permits for 20-year terms and includes 
language allowing the suspension or revocation of a permit. 

Regardless of their opinions on permit or lease terms, the majority of 
stakeholders supported public involvement during the permitting or 
leasing process. Most stakeholders indicated that the public should 
have the opportunity to both comment for the record and present 
evidence at public hearings associated with permitting or leasing 
decisions. Some stakeholders noted that because facilities will be 
located in public waters, a permitting or leasing process requires 
transparency and public input. However, a few stakeholders who 
supported public participation also expressed concern that some public 
comments and hearing testimony could be misinformed or unnecessarily 
stall the decision-making process. Based on their experience with this 
issue, state regulators and others that we spoke to in Hawaii and Maine 
also supported public involvement. For example, a key regulator, 
researchers, and aquaculturists involved with existing aquaculture 
facilities in Hawaii's state waters identified public involvement as 
key to a successful and transparent permitting process. In Hawaii, the 
main permitting process authorizing aquaculture operations requires 
public hearings as part of its approval process. Both aquaculturists 
and researchers in Hawaii said that the public involvement process 
ultimately decreases opposition to proposals because applicants can 
modify their plans in response to public comments or alleviate public 
concerns by providing more comprehensive information about the 
proposal. For example, one aquaculturist adjusted the site and 
specifications of his operation in response to requests made during a 
public hearing. Similarly, state regulators in Maine also stressed the 
importance of public involvement in their states' permitting and 
leasing approval process. Maine requires a public scoping meeting 
before an aquaculturist may submit an aquaculture application. 
Officials have found this early dialogue between the aquaculturists and 
the public useful in resolving concerns while the details of the 
proposed facility are still under development. 

Site Selection: 

Developing a process to approve aquaculture facility locations is an 
important component of regulating offshore aquaculture according to 
federal regulators, environmentalists, and researchers. For instance, 
NOAA officials in Hawaii emphasized that siting aquaculture facilities 
away from areas known to have high concentrations of marine mammals 
could reduce the likelihood that aquaculture facilities would adversely 
affect these animals. In Maine, some environmental groups also 
advocated siting aquaculture facilities outside known fish migration 
corridors to reduce the interactions between aquaculture-raised and 
wild fish, thereby reducing the likelihood that disease will be passed 
from aquaculture-raised to wild populations. 

Although the majority of stakeholders we contacted supported a variety 
of approaches that federal regulatory agencies could use to approve 
aquaculture facility sites, there was a lack of consensus on any one 
approach. These approaches include (1) determining whether a site is 
appropriate on a case-by-case basis, (2) prepermitting locations by 
approving sites independently of and prior to submitting individual 
facility applications, (3) zoning ocean areas to identify both 
appropriate areas for offshore aquaculture and prohibited areas, and 
(4) developing aquaculture parks containing multiple facilities in 
areas that are unlikely to result in conflicts between aquaculture 
facilities and other ocean uses and have optimum access to land-based 
aquaculture services. 

Those stakeholders who supported using a case-by-case site selection 
strategy agreed that regulators should assess the appropriateness of a 
specific site. One stakeholder who supported the approach stated that 
aquaculturists are most likely to know which locations best fit their 
planned operations and type of species and, therefore, should be the 
ones to propose aquaculture facility site locations. Two other 
stakeholders noted that this approach is advantageous during the early 
stages of offshore aquaculture development because it requires only 
knowledge about proposed facility sites rather than a wide variety of 
potential sites. However, a few stakeholders also criticized the case- 
by-case approach, saying that it could create additional costs for 
applicants or lengthen the permitting process. In addition, according 
to a few stakeholders, this approach would create a less standardized 
process for approving facilities than other approaches would. Another 
stakeholder expressed concern that the case-by-case approach would not 
allow regulators to collectively assess the cumulative impacts of 
several sites located near one another because they would be assessed 
individually. Currently at the state level, Hawaii, Maine, and 
Washington all use the case-by-case approach for approving sites within 
their state waters. For example, in Hawaii, regulators consider the 
impacts of a proposed site on marine mammals and ocean users, such as 
native Hawaiian fishermen, among other things, when deciding whether to 
approve a facility site. 

Those stakeholders who supported a prepermitting site selection 
strategy agreed that regulators should assess the suitability of a 
location for aquaculture before, and independently of, individual 
aquaculture applications. In this context, the University of Delaware 
study describes prepermitting as the process of establishing 
appropriate areas for offshore aquaculture by conducting environmental 
assessments of potential sites; creating a master plan for siting in 
the area; determining which aquaculture techniques and projects are 
appropriate for that area; creating a general permit authorizing use of 
the area, approved by other regulatory agencies; and, ultimately, 
issuing individual permits for occupying the area. A few stakeholders 
told us that prepermitting would make site approval more predictable 
and consistent, and another said that it would allow for cumulative 
environmental review of multiple projects. However, certain 
stakeholders who supported a prepermitted approach noted that 
establishing such a system will be time consuming and, therefore, not 
feasible in the short term. A few stakeholders were opposed to using 
prepermitted site selection. Two of these stakeholders questioned the 
appropriateness of making regulatory agencies responsible for selecting 
facility locations, stating that this approach may not identify the 
most viable sites. Furthermore, a stakeholder who did support 
prepermitting still noted that permit holders may unreasonably expect a 
prepermitted location to produce high yields and blame regulators if 
this does not occur. 

Those stakeholders who supported a zoning approach to site selection 
agreed that regulators should use a process in which government 
agencies would designate allowable uses--both aquaculture-related and 
others--for various ocean areas. However, stakeholders expressed many 
of the same concerns about a zoning approach as they did about a 
prepermitting approach. For example, a few stakeholders were wary of 
allowing regulatory agencies to select sites that may ultimately be 
unsuccessful. Among these stakeholders was a state regulator in 
Florida, a state which initially created aquaculture zones in their 
state waters but later shifted to a case-by-case site-selection 
approach because it allowed them to better identify appropriate sites 
for specific aquaculture operations. While a few stakeholders 
considered aspects of zoning and prepermitting approaches to be 
similar, others distinguished zoning as being a more far-reaching 
approach than prepermitting. Similarly, a few stakeholders supported 
zoning as a method to systematically manage the ocean ecosystem and 
identify appropriate sites. Alternatively, two stakeholders expressed 
concerns about the technical feasibility of zoning the ocean because 
the process would be too time consuming due to the extensive 
information needed about appropriate uses for broad areas of the ocean. 
In addition, Hawaii state officials responsible for developing Hawaii's 
aquaculture industry expressed concerns about zoning. They said that 
the extensive work necessary for zoning federal waters would 
unnecessarily delay offshore aquaculture development. 

Stakeholders we contacted were less supportive of establishing 
aquaculture parks compared with the other approaches to site selection. 
According to the University of Delaware study, aquaculture parks could 
be designed to provide adequate space for aquaculture operations in an 
area environmentally suited to the operations, with minimal user 
conflicts and access to land and coastal services. Aquaculture parks 
could be managed by a private-sector entity, a government agency, or a 
public-private partnership. Like the prepermitting site selection 
approach, a few proponents of aquaculture parks said the approach made 
the permitting process more predictable, while another stakeholder was 
concerned that this approach involved regulators too heavily in the 
site selection process. In addition, stakeholders identified issues 
unique to aquaculture parks. One stakeholder said that parks could 
allow greater business efficiencies by consolidating necessary 
aquaculture infrastructure and supplies like dock facilities and fuel 
into one area, but others were concerned that offshore aquaculture 
facilities would be located too close to one another. They asserted 
that concentrating offshore aquaculture facilities within the confines 
of aquaculture parks would not be in the best interest of 
aquaculturists and could also lead to increased environmental impacts. 

Key Environmental Management Issues: 

Most stakeholders we contacted supported an environmental review of the 
potential impacts of offshore aquaculture facilities before any 
facilities are sited, which can help agencies approve facilities in 
areas less likely to suffer ecological harm. In addition, stakeholders 
generally supported monitoring environmental conditions at offshore 
aquaculture facilities once they begin operations. Most stakeholders 
supported an adaptive approach to monitoring that would alter 
monitoring requirements over time to focus on the measures demonstrated 
to be the most appropriate for tracking changes to the environment. 
Stakeholders also generally supported conducting regular inspections of 
offshore aquaculture facilities. However, stakeholders did not always 
agree on how to mitigate the potential environmental impacts of escaped 
aquaculture-raised fish, including restrictions on the types of fish 
that could be raised in offshore cages, whether fish should be marked 
or tagged, and whether facilities should be required to develop plans 
outlining how they would respond to fish escapes. 

Reviewing Potential Environmental Impacts: 

Most stakeholders we contacted generally supported an environmental 
review prior to offshore aquaculture facilities' beginning operations 
to ensure that these facilities are established in areas less likely to 
suffer ecological harm. For instance, a majority of stakeholders 
recognized the value of reviewing the potential environmental impacts 
of offshore aquaculture over a broad ocean area before any aquaculture 
facilities are sited--which involves preparing a PEIS. But these 
stakeholders also articulated different views on the goal of a PEIS for 
offshore aquaculture. While some stakeholders emphasized that a PEIS 
should examine the potential environmental impacts of an offshore 
aquaculture industry, other stakeholders noted that a PEIS would be 
most useful if it reduced the need for facility-specific environmental 
reviews. While the administration's 2007 legislative proposal requires 
NOAA to conduct a PEIS, it does not specify exactly what the PEIS 
should include. In this context, in 2006, California enacted a law to 
allow fish aquaculture facilities in state marine waters, which 
requires the state to conduct a review similar to a PEIS. The law 
requires the review to consider, at a minimum, 10 factors, such as: 
appropriate areas for siting aquaculture facilities; the effects of 
aquaculture on ocean and coastal habitats, marine ecosystems, and 
commercial and recreational fishing; and the potential environmental 
impacts of escaped fish, medications, and the use of fish meal and fish 
oil. A few stakeholders said that it is not important for the federal 
government to conduct a PEIS for offshore aquaculture. Two of these 
stakeholders stated that a PEIS would require a significant amount of 
data and would take a very long time, unnecessarily delaying the 
development of offshore aquaculture. 

While a few stakeholders considered the broad level of review in a PEIS 
to be sufficient, about half of the stakeholders we contacted suggested 
that a facility-specific environmental review, conducted in accordance 
with NEPA, should also be required. About half of the stakeholders who 
supported the facility-specific review said that such reviews could 
examine site-specific or facility-specific issues that cannot be 
addressed in a broader PEIS. In its response to our questionnaire, NOAA 
indicated that a facility-specific review is very important and stated 
that the complexity of this type of review should reflect the risk 
level of the project. For instance, a review of a project that uses 
technologies, species, and sites that are well understood could draw on 
existing documentation, while a proposal for a project that uses a new 
species or untested technology may require a more in-depth review. Of 
the few stakeholders who supported only the PEIS, two stakeholders said 
that if the PEIS was done correctly, a facility-specific review should 
not be necessary. One stakeholder mentioned that requiring a facility- 
specific review for each proposed offshore aquaculture facility would 
be expensive for aquaculturists and would be a barrier to offshore 
aquaculture development. 

With regard to the states' approaches for addressing environmental 
reviews, we found that Maine and Hawaii both require facility-specific 
environmental reviews for proposed aquaculture facilities in their 
state waters. Maine requires that applicants collect environmental 
baseline data on sediment characteristics; the benthic community; water 
quality; and existing uses of the site, such as commercial fishing and 
recreational boating. Once an application is submitted, the state also 
conducts a site review, which can include conducting video surveys of 
the area and gathering water quality information. Hawaii requires a 
similar level of detail from its applicants through an environmental 
assessment process. Aquaculture industry representatives and state 
regulators in Hawaii both told us that they supported Hawaii's process. 

Most stakeholders also stated that considering the potential cumulative 
impacts of aquaculture facilities is important when evaluating offshore 
aquaculture proposals. Two stakeholders suggested that cumulative 
impacts be considered as part of the PEIS process. The University of 
Delaware and Marine Aquaculture Task Force studies both recommended 
that agencies consider cumulative impacts of offshore aquaculture 
facilities during environmental reviews. The administration's 2007 
legislative proposal includes language requiring that a permitting 
process address the potential cumulative impacts of offshore 
aquaculture on marine ecosystems, human health and safety, other ocean 
uses, and coastal communities. In addition, many stakeholders offered 
suggestions for mitigating cumulative impacts, including siting 
facilities far enough apart that their operations will be less likely 
to affect one another, combining multiple kinds of aquaculture--such as 
fish and shellfish--to take advantage of shellfish's ability to remove 
nutrients from the water column, and limiting the number of fish within 
a given cage or area. An industry representative also pointed out that 
it is in the best interest of aquaculturists to locate their facilities 
far from one another to avoid being affected by potential water quality 
or disease problems from neighboring facilities. 

Monitoring Environmental Conditions and Inspecting Facilities: 

Stakeholders generally supported monitoring a variety of potential 
environmental impacts of offshore aquaculture facilities once they have 
been approved and are operating, though they varied on the types of 
monitoring they supported for fish and shellfish aquaculture 
facilities. While most stakeholders said it is important to monitor 
both fish and shellfish aquaculture facilities for impacts on the 
benthic community and disease outbreaks, stakeholders said it is more 
important to monitor fish aquaculture facilities than shellfish 
aquaculture facilities for chemical levels in the water. In addition, 
some stakeholders mentioned that monitoring fish aquaculture facilities 
for escapes will be very important. 

Maine and Washington have developed monitoring programs for their 
nearshore aquaculture facilities, which provide examples of how the 
federal government could implement the types of monitoring recommended 
by stakeholders for offshore aquaculture facilities. Specifically, we 
found that these states have developed monitoring programs--although 
they vary significantly between states--to address benthic community, 
disease, and chemical impacts for nearshore fish aquaculture 
facilities. For example, Maine's general NPDES permit for salmon 
aquaculture facilities requires multiple kinds of benthic community 
monitoring, including color video or photographic evaluations of the 
ocean floor under and around each net pen twice per year and a detailed 
analysis of samples of benthic community organisms at least once every 
5 years. In contrast, Washington requires video evaluations under net 
pen facilities twice every 5 years but requires detailed analysis of 
samples of benthic community organisms only if routine video evaluation 
results show that the facility samples exceed the permit requirements. 
Maine and Washington also both have regulations to control disease 
outbreaks in fish aquaculture facilities. Both states require that an 
aquaculturist whose fish test positive for certain diseases notify the 
state within 48 hours. Maine and Washington can require a number of 
mitigation measures--depending on the severity of the outbreak and the 
potential for the disease to impact other aquaculture-raised or wild 
fish--including requiring that the infected fish be quarantined, 
removed, or destroyed. Finally, if aquaculturists use medications to 
treat disease, Maine requires them to monitor the concentration of 
those medications in benthic sediments. Washington requires 
aquaculturists to monitor for antibiotics in benthic sediments if 
antibiotic use could pose a threat to human health or the environment. 

Although monitoring was identified as important by stakeholders, state 
regulators in Hawaii identified some challenges to monitoring the 
nearshore, open-ocean aquaculture facilities in Hawaii state waters. 
Specifically, Hawaii state regulators said they do not have the data to 
determine whether medications used to treat fish for disease could 
affect the marine environment. These officials suggested that EPA could 
help the states evaluate these impacts by developing standardized 
laboratory tests that could detect medications in the marine 
environment, as well as by developing protocols for monitoring such 
medications. Another monitoring challenge, according to aquaculturists 
in Hawaii, is that some types of monitoring, such as collecting 
sediment samples beneath the cages for benthic community analysis, are 
very difficult to conduct in open-ocean conditions. Diving for these 
samples in deep water is dangerous and, as a result, aquaculturists 
find it difficult to obtain insurance coverage for deep water diving. 

In addition to supporting specific types of environmental monitoring 
for fish and shellfish facilities, most stakeholders also supported 
using an adaptive monitoring approach that would allow regulators to 
change monitoring requirements over time to focus only on the types of 
monitoring demonstrated to be the most appropriate for tracking changes 
to the environment. Some stakeholders said that an adaptive monitoring 
approach would provide regulators the flexibility to respond to new 
information on environmental risks and change monitoring requirements 
accordingly. Others mentioned that, since offshore aquaculture is a new 
industry, it is difficult to predict the impacts and the monitoring 
measures needed beforehand, and so the flexibility of adaptive 
monitoring would be appropriate. The University of Delaware study also 
recommended that monitoring requirements and regulations be flexible 
and adaptive to allow regulators to modify these requirements as 
warranted by changes in environmental conditions. Officials in Maine 
also supported adaptive monitoring and suggested that regulators need 
flexibility to adjust monitoring requirements to ensure that resources 
are focused on monitoring the most important measures. 

Finally, most stakeholders wanted federal agencies to require 
inspections for the security of structures and equipment at the 
aquaculture site, as well as for compliance with the terms and 
conditions of permits, among other things. The University of Delaware 
study stated that regulators should conduct both announced and 
unannounced inspections. For instance, announced inspections could be 
conducted to oversee chemical treatments of fish or obtain water 
samples from the cages. Unannounced inspections could be useful if the 
permitting agency suspects that the operator is not meeting permitting 
conditions. 

Mitigating the Potential Impact of Escaped Fish and Remediating 
Environmental Damage: 

Stakeholders had varied opinions about other policies related to 
offshore aquaculture that could be used to mitigate the potential 
environmental impact of escaped aquaculture-raised fish, including 
restricting the types of fish that could be raised in offshore cages, 
requiring fish to be marked or tagged, and requiring facilities to 
develop plans outlining how they would respond to fish escapes. 
Specifically, a majority of the stakeholders supported a policy that 
would limit offshore aquaculture to species native to the region in 
which the facility is located. The administration's 2007 legislative 
proposal includes language to require that offshore aquaculture 
facilities raise only species that are native to the aquaculture 
facility's geographic region unless a scientific analysis shows that 
the harm to the marine environment is negligible or can be mitigated. A 
similar approach is currently being used by Maine, in which a proposal 
to raise nonnative species that have never been cultured in Maine must 
be presented at a public hearing in addition to the regular 
environmental review process. By contrast, in California, an official 
told us that the state prohibits aquaculturists from raising nonnative 
species. About half of the stakeholders we spoke to also supported a 
policy that would prohibit raising genetically modified species 
offshore. The administration's 2007 legislative proposal includes 
language to require that offshore aquaculture facilities not raise 
genetically modified species unless a scientific analysis shows that 
the harm to the marine environment is negligible or can be mitigated. 
One stakeholder said he opposed a prohibition on genetically modified 
species because it could reduce the competitiveness of U.S. industry by 
preventing U.S. companies from raising species that may become 
economically important. 

Stakeholders also had varied views on a policy that would require 
aquaculturists to mark or tag their fish to distinguish them from wild 
fish.[Footnote 22] The majority of stakeholders we spoke with supported 
this policy, often citing the need to hold aquaculture producers 
accountable for fish escapes. In addition, a few stakeholders said that 
marking or tagging fish would also allow researchers to gather 
additional information about the impacts that escaped fish have on wild 
populations. Three of the six regional fishery management council 
representatives we spoke with said that marking or tagging aquaculture- 
raised fish was a good idea. The council representatives were generally 
concerned with how aquaculture-raised fish would complicate their 
efforts to enforce wild fisheries regulations. For instance, council 
representatives said that if aquaculture-raised fish are 
indistinguishable from wild fish, then this increases the potential for 
illegally caught wild fish to be passed off as aquaculture-raised fish, 
undermining wild fisheries enforcement. One NOAA official and a 
representative of the Gulf of Mexico council, however, suggested that a 
tracking system with a paper trail to follow aquaculture-raised fish 
from offshore cages to the marketplace could alleviate some of the 
concerns raised by stakeholders. Most stakeholders who opposed marking 
or tagging of aquaculture-raised fish did so because they said that 
this practice is expensive. A NOAA official opposed requiring marking 
or tagging for each offshore aquaculture facility, but noted that if 
there is a scientific basis for it because of a high risk of 
environmental harm from escapes from a particular aquaculture facility, 
the agency would support marking or tagging for that facility. 

States have developed marking requirements for fish raised in nearshore 
aquaculture facilities that provide examples of how the federal 
government could implement marking requirements for fish raised 
offshore. Maine and Washington currently require aquaculture-raised 
salmon in their marine waters to be marked so as to be distinguishable 
from wild populations. For instance, one environmentalist in Maine 
explained that wild Atlantic salmon--an endangered species--are highly 
adapted to their environments, including the particular river in which 
they were hatched. As a result, interbreeding with aquaculture-raised 
salmon could change the genetics of the wild population and reduce the 
ability of wild Atlantic salmon to survive. In Washington, the marking 
requirement stems from a desire to identify aquaculture-raised Atlantic 
salmon found spawning in state rivers. British Columbia also has an 
Atlantic salmon aquaculture industry. Marking aquaculture-raised fish 
from Washington can clarify whether fish are escaping from U.S. 
aquaculture facilities or from Canadian ones. Aquaculturists raising 
fish in Hawaii's open-ocean state waters told us that the state does 
not require them to mark or tag their fish. 

Most stakeholders also supported requiring aquaculturists to develop 
plans to address fish escapes from their proposed offshore aquaculture 
facilities. NOAA indicated that requiring aquaculturists to submit 
escape response plans is very important. The administration's 2007 
legislative proposal states that environmental requirements must 
include safeguards to prevent fish escapes that may cause significant 
environmental harm. Most stakeholders also agreed that aquaculturists 
should be required to develop emergency response plans in the event 
that aquaculture operations need to be temporarily relocated. The 
University of Delaware study also supported the development of such 
plans, which they believe could also help aquaculturists relocate their 
facilities in an emergency, such as if a red tide or large storm system 
threatened the aquaculture-raised fish. 

Most stakeholders also supported a requirement that aquaculturists 
provide a financial guarantee, such as a bond, letter of credit, 
insurance policy, or trust fund, to cover the cost of removing 
abandoned aquaculture facilities. For example, two stakeholders 
supported this policy because, in the event that the aquaculturist goes 
bankrupt, the guarantee prevents the government from having to pay to 
remove the facility. Both Maine and Hawaii use a similar approach for 
aquaculture in their state waters by requiring companies to obtain 
bonds for removing aquaculture facilities when aquaculture operations 
cease. In its response to our questionnaire, NOAA indicated that it 
supports requiring this type of financial guarantee. 

Stakeholder views varied, however, about whether a similar financial 
guarantee should be required to remediate environmental damage caused 
by an offshore aquaculture operation, with about half of the 
stakeholders supporting such a requirement as a necessary and logical 
accountability provision. A few stakeholders stated that without a 
financial guarantee, any damage caused by a facility would require 
public funds for remediation. Other stakeholders objected to requiring 
a financial guarantee for remediating environmental damage. Some 
stakeholders cited a variety of concerns with bonds for environmental 
remediation, such as (1) difficulty proving that the environmental 
damage was caused by a particular facility, (2) difficulty quantifying 
the damage, and (3) that the cost of providing such a guarantee, 
particularly if there are no numerical limits on the total 
environmental damages that could be claimed, might hinder offshore 
aquaculture industry development. One NOAA official said that requiring 
a financial guarantee for mitigation of the benthic habitat in the 
immediate vicinity of the aquaculture site is practical but did not 
agree with a requirement for mitigation of all other environmental 
damage. 

To address the issue of financial guarantees to cover environmental 
damage from aquaculture facilities in state regulated waters, 
California recently enacted a marine aquaculture law, which includes a 
provision requiring a financial guarantee from companies to cover 
environmental damage, but specifies that the extent of environmental 
damage and related costs will be determined by the state Fish and Game 
Commission. An environmentalist involved in the negotiations 
surrounding the law explained that identifying a specific entity--the 
state Fish and Game Commission--to determine the extent of 
environmental damage was a compromise acceptable to both the 
aquaculture industry and environmental groups. Specifically, he said 
that environmentalists supported the compromise because it holds 
aquaculture facilities accountable for environmental damage, while 
industry supported it because it is confident that the Fish and Game 
Commission will deal with environmental damage issues fairly. About 
half of the stakeholders that we contacted said that they would support 
a similar provision at the federal level. Two stakeholders suggested 
that NOAA could make determinations about the extent of environmental 
damage at the federal level since it has experience assessing impacts 
on the marine environment. One stakeholder who did not support a 
federal government system similar to California's feared that the 
criteria for identifying environmental damage could change from year to 
year, thereby increasing the risk of investing in offshore aquaculture. 

Priorities for Aquaculture Research and Limitations of Current 
Programs: 

It is also important for a regulatory framework to include federally 
funded research to address gaps in current knowledge on a variety of 
issues related to offshore aquaculture. Stakeholders identified four 
research areas as particularly appropriate for federal funding--the 
development of alternative fish feeds; the development of best 
management practices; the investigation of how escaped aquaculture- 
raised fish might impact wild fish populations; and the development of 
hatchery technologies to breed and grow fish, while effectively 
managing disease. In addition, while NOAA and USDA fund research on 
marine aquaculture through, for instance, competitive grants, some 
researchers said that these grants are funded over time periods that 
are too short to accommodate certain types of research. 

Federal Research Priorities: 

Stakeholders we contacted and the four key studies we reviewed 
generally agreed that the federal government should fund aquaculture 
research to address gaps in current knowledge. Stakeholders identified 
four research areas as particularly appropriate for federal funding. 
These four research areas are as follows: 

* Most stakeholders supported research to help in the development of 
alternative fish feeds, citing reasons such as protecting wild species 
from overfishing because wild species are currently used as a source of 
fish meal and fish oil, and helping to lower industry costs. For 
example, a NOAA official noted that the demand for fish feed has 
increased in recent years, leading to a steep rise in the price of 
aquaculture fish feeds. Due to this price increase, industry 
representatives and researchers are interested in developing 
alternative feeds that cost less. 

* Most stakeholders also supported federal research that would help 
develop best management practices. For example, one stakeholder said 
that best management practices are very important because they identify 
accepted practices for aquaculturists to follow and provide a method 
for agencies to judge whether aquaculture facilities are operating 
appropriately. 

* Most stakeholders supported federally funded research investigating 
how escaped aquaculture-raised fish might impact wild fish populations. 
One stakeholder supported this research because existing research on 
escapes does not focus on the species likely to be raised offshore. 

* Many stakeholders also supported federal research that would help 
develop hatchery technologies to breed and grow the fish that 
ultimately populate offshore cages, while effectively managing disease. 
Aquaculturists have identified the hatchery stage of aquaculture as 
particularly difficult because hatchery fish are susceptible to 
diseases, young fish need specially formulated feeds, and breeding fish 
is complex. 

While stakeholders generally identified these areas as priorities, a 
few stakeholders also emphasized that federal funding should focus on 
research that helps regulate the aquaculture industry or mitigate 
environmental impacts. Research into how escaped aquaculture-raised 
fish might impact wild fish populations is an example of this type of 
research. Other stakeholders, as well as the U.S. Ocean Commission 
study, suggested that federal research should also assist aquaculture 
industry development. For instance, one stakeholder suggested that the 
top issue for government funding should be determining which species 
will be commercially viable for offshore aquaculture. Similarly, the 
stakeholder noted that developing a species for aquaculture is 
difficult for the private sector to do because it is very expensive and 
would take 10 to 30 years. 

Components and Potential Limitations of the Current Federal Aquaculture 
Research Program: 

NOAA and USDA currently support research on marine aquaculture through, 
for example, competitive grants. NOAA's major competitive grant program 
for marine aquaculture is the National Marine Aquaculture Initiative, 
which funded approximately $4.6 million in projects related to marine 
species during the 2006 grant cycle. NOAA also manages funding for a 
number of offshore aquaculture-related projects, such as the open-ocean 
aquaculture demonstration project off the coast of New Hampshire. 
Similarly, USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension 
Service funds external aquaculture research through such vehicles as 
competitive grant programs, land grant institutions, and regional 
aquaculture centers. In addition, USDA's Agricultural Research Service 
conducts research at its federal science centers and laboratories. 

Several researchers, including some whom we interviewed during our site 
visits, identified potential limitations of the current federal 
aquaculture research programs. Specifically, they said that many of the 
available competitive grants are funded over time periods that are too 
short and at funding levels too low to accommodate certain types of 
research. For example, researchers in Hawaii said that the development 
of healthy breeding fish to supply offshore aquaculture operations can 
require years of intensive breeding efforts, but that it is difficult 
to obtain consistent research funding over this longer time period. 

Both USDA and NOAA officials acknowledged that demonstration projects 
and other lengthy research projects may be difficult to complete within 
current competitive grant time frames. However, they noted that 
appropriations for their programs dictate the current length of these 
grants. USDA officials identified some programs that could be used for 
long-term research, including competitive grants from the agency's 
regional aquaculture centers or the agency's Agricultural Research 
Service internal research projects. The regional aquaculture centers 
set their own priorities and funding allocations, which allows centers 
to focus on long-term offshore aquaculture research if they so choose. 
For instance, the regional center in Hawaii has supported research that 
applies to offshore aquaculture, but none of the other centers 
currently support research specifically related to offshore 
aquaculture. A USDA official also suggested that the Agricultural 
Research Service could support long-term projects if such projects are 
identified as priorities in future 5-year plans for aquaculture 
research. The Agricultural Research Service uses feedback from 
aquaculturists and regulatory agencies, among others, to identify 
priorities and develop 5-year plans for aquaculture research. 
Agricultural Research Service officials indicated that the current 5- 
year plan directs about one-third of the agency's aquaculture funding 
to research related to marine species. 

Concluding Observations: 

An effective federal regulatory framework for U.S. offshore aquaculture 
will be critical to facilitating the development of an economically 
sustainable industry, while at the same time protecting the health of 
marine ecosystems. As the Congress considers providing a cohesive 
legislative framework for regulating an offshore aquaculture industry, 
we believe it will need to consider a number of important issues. A key 
first step in developing a U.S. regulatory framework could be 
designating a lead federal agency that has the appropriate expertise 
and can effectively collaborate and coordinate with other federal 
agencies. In addition, setting up clear legislative and regulatory 
guidance on where offshore aquaculture facilities can be located and 
how they can be operated could help ensure that these facilities have 
the least amount of impact on the ocean environment. Moreover, a 
regulatory framework could also include a process for reviewing the 
potential environmental impacts of proposed offshore aquaculture 
facilities, monitoring the environmental impacts of these facilities 
once they are operational, and quickly identifying and mitigating 
environmental problems when they occur. Inclusion of an adaptive 
management approach by which the monitoring process can be modified 
over time could be useful not only to ensure that the most effective 
approaches are being used to protect the environment but also to help 
reduce costs to the industry. In addition, a transparent regulatory 
process that gives states and the public opportunities to comment on 
specific offshore aquaculture projects could help allay some of the 
concerns about the potential environmental impacts of offshore 
aquaculture. Finally, because the offshore aquaculture industry is in 
its infancy much remains unknown, and many technical challenges remain, 
such as the best species to raise offshore and the most effective 
offshore aquaculture practices. In this context, there may be a role 
for the federal government in funding the research needed to help 
answer these questions and facilitate the development of an 
ecologically-sound offshore aquaculture industry. 

Agency Comments and Our Evaluation: 

We provided a draft of this report to the Departments of Agriculture, 
the Army, and Commerce; and also to the Environmental Protection Agency 
for review and comment. We received written comments from the 
Department of Commerce, EPA, and USDA. Overall, the Department of 
Commerce's NOAA stated that the report accurately presented information 
regarding the opportunities and challenges for offshore aquaculture and 
will contribute to the discussion of environmentally responsible and 
sustainable offshore aquaculture. NOAA also commented on many issues 
discussed in our draft report, expressing three areas of concern. 

* NOAA listed several issues it thought were not adequately addressed 
in the report, including the role aquaculture can play in the 
development of a safe, sustainable, domestic seafood supply. These 
issues were outside our scope which was focused on identifying key 
elements of a federal regulatory framework for offshore aquaculture. 

* NOAA said that by indicating that the environmental impacts of an 
offshore aquaculture industry are uncertain due to a lack of data 
specific to such facilities, we were diminishing the importance of the 
findings from environmental monitoring of the small-scale open ocean 
aquaculture operations in state waters. We do not agree. Our report 
acknowledges that the results of environmental monitoring at small- 
scale open ocean facilities have found modest impacts. However, as 
larger facilities begin operating, their impacts could become more 
pronounced. Given that such facilities do not yet exist, it is too 
early to know what their impacts will be. 

* NOAA said that our report did not adequately discuss offshore 
shellfish aquaculture. We believe that it did. Most of the policy 
issues raised in the report apply equally to shellfish and fish 
aquaculture. In those cases where the issues differ for shellfish and 
fish aquaculture, we discussed them separately. 

NOAA also provided technical comments, which we have incorporated in 
the report as appropriate. NOAA's comments and our detailed responses 
are presented in appendix III. 

EPA provided clarifying language regarding their expertise in 
regulating water quality related to offshore aquaculture, which we 
incorporated as appropriate. EPA's comments are presented in appendix 
IV. 

The Department of Agriculture provided two comments on the report. 
First, USDA mentioned two issues that it did not think were adequately 
addressed in the report. 

* USDA said that a mechanism for a coordinated federal-wide research 
framework exists through the Joint Subcommittee on Aquaculture. Our 
report acknowledges that USDA chairs the interagency Joint: 

Subcommittee on Aquaculture and that the Subcommittee is currently 
working to update the federal strategic plan for aquaculture research. 

* USDA also said that it has a wide diversity of aquaculture research 
that is not limited or directed by whether the fish will be raised in 
fresh, brackish, or salt water. Characterizing all of USDA's 
aquaculture-related research activities was not within the scope of our 
report. Rather, our report is focused on offshore marine aquaculture. 
As such, we reported what stakeholders told us regarding research 
related to offshore marine aquaculture. 

Second, USDA explained that it did not feel that it was appropriate to 
respond to our questionnaire on offshore aquaculture because it asked 
for individual opinions related to policy matters. USDA's comments and 
our detailed responses are presented in appendix V. 

The Department of the Army did not have any comments on the report. 

We are sending copies of this report to the Secretaries of the Army, 
Agriculture, and Commerce; the Administrator of the EPA; appropriate 
congressional committees; and other interested parties. We also will 
make copies available to others upon request. In addition, this report 
will be available at no charge on the GAO Web site at [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov]. 

If you or your staff have any questions about this report or need 
additional information, please contact me at (202) 512-3841 or 
mittala@gao.gov. Contact points for our Offices of Congressional 
Relations and of Public Affairs may be found on the last page of this 
report. Key contributors to this report are listed in appendix VI. 

Sincerely yours, 

Signed by: 

]Anu K. Mittal: 

Director, Natural Resources: 

and Environment: 

[End of section] 

Appendix I: Objective, Scope, and Methodology: 

The objective of this report was to identify key issues that should be 
addressed in the development of an effective regulatory framework for 
U.S. offshore aquaculture. To address this objective, we reviewed key 
academic and government-sponsored studies that analyzed proposed 
regulatory frameworks for offshore aquaculture in federal waters; 
reviewed existing federal laws that include provisions that are 
applicable to offshore aquaculture, as well as federal agencies' 
regulations, policies, and guidance for marine aquaculture; reviewed 
laws, regulations, policies, and guidance for marine aquaculture in 
selected states; visited aquaculture facilities in selected states; and 
administered questionnaires to, and conducted follow-up structured 
interviews with, a variety of aquaculture stakeholders. 

We identified studies on offshore aquaculture regulations by conducting 
a literature search of online databases for studies and reports from 
government agencies, nonprofit organizations, industry associations, 
and academia. We also obtained references from aquaculture experts and 
agency officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 
(NOAA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the U.S. 
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). After reviewing various studies, 
we identified four key studies that examined offshore aquaculture and 
made recommendations to improve the regulatory framework for offshore 
aquaculture. These key studies--by the Marine Aquaculture Task Force, 
the University of Delaware, the Pew Oceans Commission, and the U.S. 
Commission on Ocean Policy--brought together ocean policy stakeholders 
to examine, among other things, potential regulatory frameworks for 
offshore aquaculture. These studies of offshore aquaculture regulations 
were each developed in the last 5 years with stakeholder input and 
discuss a variety of issues related to marine aquaculture. Throughout 
the report, we cite those studies that reached similar conclusions or 
made similar recommendations on particular policy issues. If a study is 
not cited for a particular policy issue, it is because the study did 
not address that issue. 

To identify existing federal laws that include provisions that are 
applicable to offshore aquaculture, as well as federal agencies' 
regulations, policies, and guidance for marine aquaculture, we 
interviewed officials from the NOAA's National Marine Fisheries 
Service, NOAA's National Ocean Service, the U.S. Army Corps of 
Engineers, the EPA, the Department of the Interior's Fish and Wildlife 
Service and Minerals Management Service, and the USDA's Animal and 
Plant Health Inspection Service. We also reviewed a wide variety of 
laws to identify federal agencies' responsibilities and authorities for 
offshore aquaculture. The laws we reviewed included the Marine Mammal 
Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Magnuson-Stevens 
Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the Coastal Zone Management 
Act, the Rivers and Harbors Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, 
the National Aquaculture Act of 1980, and the Clean Water Act. 

We identified relevant state laws, regulations, policies, and guidance 
for marine aquaculture by interviewing state regulators, 
environmentalists, representatives of the commercial fishing industry, 
and representatives of the aquaculture industry in California, Florida, 
Hawaii, Maine, Texas, and Washington. We selected these states because 
they currently regulate, or are in the process of developing regulatory 
frameworks for, aquaculture operations in state waters, and because 
they represent different geographic areas of the United States. 
Additionally, we met with state and federal regulators in Hawaii, 
Maine, and Washington--the states with active nearshore fish 
aquaculture industries--to discuss state regulatory systems and visited 
aquaculture facilities in Hawaii and Maine. 

Based on issues identified in the four key studies, and in our 
interviews with federal and state officials, we developed a 
questionnaire on the elements of a regulatory framework for offshore 
aquaculture. Prior to distributing the questionnaire, we conducted 
pretests with stakeholders who were similar to those we intended to 
survey and modified some questions in response to those 
results.[Footnote 23] The final questionnaire covered a range of topics 
including which federal agencies should be responsible for various 
program administration activities such as program management and agency 
coordination; how a potential permitting or leasing program should be 
structured, including to what extent various stakeholders should be 
involved in the process; opinions on the types of environmental review 
and monitoring that should be required as part of a regulatory 
framework; and what should be the priority areas for potentially 
federally funded aquaculture research. 

In addition to developing the questionnaire, we identified key 
aquaculture stakeholders to respond to the questionnaire. We selected 
these stakeholders because of their expertise in aquaculture at the 
national, state, or local level; to provide representation across 
academia, government, industry, and the nonprofit sector; and to 
provide broad geographic representation throughout the United States. 
To ensure that our initial list of stakeholders satisfied these 
criteria, we asked two noted aquaculture experts to review our 
selections. Both experts submitted three additional names for our 
consideration--two of which were the same individuals--otherwise they 
both agreed our list satisfied our criteria. The two individuals 
recommended by both experts were then included as stakeholders. See 
appendix II for a list of the stakeholders who responded to our 
questionnaire. 

We distributed the questionnaire to 28 stakeholders electronically, 
asking them to fill it out and return it to GAO. We received 25 
responses. Three federal agencies with responsibilities relating to 
offshore aquaculture--the Department of the Interior, the USDA, and the 
EPA--did not provide official or complete written responses to the 
questionnaire. However, we met with officials from these agencies to 
discuss their responsibilities related to aquaculture. After reviewing 
the questionnaire responses we received, we conducted follow-up 
structured interviews with each stakeholder to clarify some responses 
and to obtain additional details on stakeholders' responses to some 
open-ended questions. To identify trends in responses, we analyzed the 
results of the questionnaire by summarizing responses and producing 
descriptive statistics using Microsoft Access. In addition, we 
qualitatively analyzed open-ended responses from the questionnaire and 
responses from follow-up interviews to provide additional insight into 
stakeholder views on key issues that should be addressed in the 
development of a regulatory framework for offshore aquaculture. For 
purposes of characterizing the results from our questionnaire and 
follow-up interviews of our 25 stakeholders, we identified specific 
meanings for the words we used to quantify the results, as follows: "a 
few" means at least three, and up to five stakeholders; "some" means 
between 6 and 11 stakeholders; "about half" means 12 to 14 
stakeholders; "a majority" of stakeholders and "many" stakeholders both 
mean 15 to 19 stakeholders; and "most" means 20 stakeholders or more. 

We conducted this performance audit from April 2007 to May 2008 in 
accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards. Those 
standards require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain 
sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our 
findings and conclusions based on our audit objective. We believe that 
the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings and 
conclusions based on our audit objective. 

[End of section] 

Appendix II: Stakeholders Consulted by GAO Regarding a Regulatory 
Framework for Offshore Aquaculture: 

The following stakeholders responded to our questionnaire and 
participated in follow-up interviews regarding administrative and 
environmental issues that should be addressed in the development of an 
effective regulatory framework for U.S. offshore aquaculture: 

* Sue Aspelund, Special Assistant to the Commissioner, Alaska 
Department of Fish and Game;A: 

* Brian E. Baird, Assistant Secretary, Ocean and Coastal Policy, 
California Resources Agency; 

* Sebastian M. Belle, Executive Director, Maine Aquaculture 
Association; 

* John Connelly, President, National Fisheries Institute; 

* Cora Crome, Fisheries Policy Advisor, Office of the Governor, State 
of Alaska;A: 

* Bill Dewey, Manager of Public Affairs, Taylor Shellfish Company; 

* Robin Downey, Executive Director, Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers 
Association; 

* Kathleen Drew, Executive Policy Advisor, Office of Washington 
Governor Chris Gregoire; 

* Tim Eichenberg, Former Director, Pacific Regional Office, Ocean 
Conservancy;B: 

* John Forster, Ph.D., President and Aquaculture Consultant, Forster 
Consulting Inc; 

* Rebecca Goldburg, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, Environmental Defense 
Fund; 

* Samantha D. Horn Olsen, Aquaculture Policy Coordinator, Maine 
Department of Marine Resources; 

* Dr. Richard Langan, Director, Atlantic Marine Aquaculture Center and 
Open Ocean Aquaculture Program, University of New Hampshire; 

* George H. Leonard, Ph.D., Aquaculture Director, Ocean Conservancy;B: 

* John R. MacMillan, Ph.D., President, National Aquaculture 
Association; 

* Dr. Larry McKinney, Director of Coastal Fisheries, Texas Parks and 
Wildlife Department; 

* Rosamond Naylor, William Wrigley Senior Fellow and Director, Program 
on Food Security and the Environment, Stanford University; 

* J.E. Jack Rensel, Ph.D., Principal Scientist, Rensel Associates 
Aquatic Sciences; 

* Dr. Michael Rubino, Manager, NOAA Aquaculture Program, National 
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; 

* Mitchell Shapson, LL.M., Policy and Legal Analyst, The Institute for 
Fisheries Resources; 

* Neil Anthony Sims, Co-founder and President, Kona Blue Water Farms, 
LLC, and Founding Boardmember, Ocean Stewards Institute; 

* Chip Smith, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil 
Works), Assistant for Environment, Tribal and Regulatory Affairs; 

* Linda L. Smith, Senior Policy Advisor, Office of the Governor, State 
of Hawaii; 

* Albert G.J. Tacon, Ph.D., Technical Director, Aquatic Farms Ltd; 

* Paula Terrel, Commercial Fisherman & Fish Farming Issues Coordinator, 
Alaska Marine Conservation Council; 

* Jose Villalon, Director, Aquaculture Program, World Wildlife Fund; 
and: 

* Sherman Wilhelm, Director, Division of Aquaculture, Florida 
Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. 

[A] Both Sue Aspelund and Cora Crome contributed to the stakeholder 
response for the state of Alaska. Because we received a single 
questionnaire and conducted a single follow-up interview, we treated 
them as a single stakeholder for purposes of analysis even though they 
are acknowledged separately here. 

[B] Both Tim Eichenberg and George Leonard contributed to the 
stakeholder response for the Ocean Conservancy. Because we received a 
single questionnaire and conducted a single follow-up interview, we 
treated them as a single stakeholder for purposes of analysis even 
though they are acknowledged separately here. 

[End of section] 

Appendix III: Comments from the Department of Commerce: 

Note: GAO comments supplementing those in the report text appear at the 
end of this appendix. 

The Secretary Of Commerce: 
Washington, D.C. 20230

April 25, 2008:  

Ms. Anu K. Mittal: 
Director: 
Natural Resources and Environment: 
U.S. Government Accountability Office: 
441 G Street, N.W.: 
Washington, D.C. 20548:  

Dear Ms. Mittal: 

Thank you for the opportunity to review and comment on the Government 
Accountability Office's draft report entitled Offshore Marine 
Aquaculture: Multiple Administrative and Environmental Issues Need to 
be Addressed in Establishing a U.S. Regulatory Framework (GAO-08-594). 
On behalf of the Department of Commerce, I enclose the National Oceanic 
and Atmospheric Administration's comments on the draft report. 

Sincerely, 

Signed by: 

Enclosure: 

Department of Commerce: 

Comments on the Draft GAO Report Entitled "Offshore Marine Aquaculture: 
Multiple Administrative and Environmental Issues Need to Be Addressed 
in Establishing a U.S. Regulatory Framework" (GAO-08-594/May 2008): 

General Comments: 

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) Offshore Marine Aquaculture 
Report captures the growing interest in offshore aquaculture in the 
United States as an additional form of domestic seafood production. The 
report accurately presents the opportunities and challenges for this 
new form of seafood production by succinctly summarizing information 
from major publicly and privately funded studies, representatives of 
key stakeholder groups, and the experience of selected coastal states. 
GAO's report will contribute to the discussion of environmentally 
responsible and sustainable offshore aquaculture in the broader context 
of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) overall 
marine aquaculture program. 

{See comment 1.): 

Issues of considerable interest to the public not examined in the 
report are the role of aquaculture and its relevance to a safe, 
sustainable domestic seafood supply, the net environmental benefits of 
aquaculture production, and the creation of jobs from coastal 
communities to the American heartland. 

As the Nation's oceans and fisheries agency, NOAA has already begun to 
address the administrative and environmental issues highlighted in the 
GAO report. The agency established an aquaculture program in 2004, and 
has been working with Congress on national offshore aquaculture 
legislation since 2005. NOAA is also supporting internal and external 
marine aquaculture research and collaborating with other federal 
agencies on broader initiatives such as the implementation of a 
National Aquatic Animal Health Plan. 

In addition to its dual mandate to protect the marine environment and 
manage sustainable use of living marine resources, NOAA is already 
tasked with providing the best available science about marine 
aquaculture to policymakers and the public so that government agencies 
can make informed regulatory and policy decisions. NOAA's existing 
grant programs such as the National Marine Aquaculture Initiative 
support priority aquaculture research topics identified in the GAO 
report, including projects to evaluate sites for offshore aquaculture 
and assess the environmental risks and mitigation options for offshore 
production technologies and species. 

Consistent with GAO's findings, stakeholders at a National Marine 
Aquaculture Summit, which was organized by NOAA and hosted by the 
Secretary of Commerce in June 2007, emphasized the need for 
transparent, consistent, and predictable regulations and environmental 
protections in order for the offshore aquaculture industry to move 
forward in the United States. Similarly in 2007, NOAA adopted a 10-Year 
Plan for Marine Aquaculture, which also includes a comprehensive 
regulatory program for environmentally sustainable marine aquaculture 
as a priority goal. Summit participants and NOAA's 10-Year Plan also 
pointed out the need for additional research, as indicated in GAO's 
report. 

By highlighting the importance of the siting, monitoring, and 
management of marine aquaculture operations, GAO accurately reflected 
stakeholders' concerns over preventing or minimizing adverse 
environmental impacts of marine aquaculture. However, its focus on the 
lack of data on the environmental impacts of commercial scale offshore 
aquaculture operations (since these do not yet exist) diminishes the 
importance of findings based on environmental monitoring and research 
at the five small-scale open ocean operations in U.S. state waters. 
These operations have shown insignificant environmental effects to 
date, and the adaptive monitoring approaches that GAO describes in the 
report will provide a way to ensure that these impacts remain minimal 
as projects scale up in size. Also, the lessons learned from managing 
and regulating commercial finfish aquaculture in Maine, Washington 
State, and elsewhere, as cited in the report, as well as the experience 
with stock enhancement and shellfish farming in the United States, 
provide a substantial body of knowledge about the net environmental 
effects of marine aquaculture and the regulatory approaches that will 
apply to offshore aquaculture. 

(See comment 2.): 

NOAA is fully engaged in issues relating to the use of fish meal and 
fish oil in aquaculture feeds, a priority issue identified in the 
report. As stated, fish meal and fish oil are important components in 
the feeds for many farm-raised species, from pigs and poultry to farmed 
fish. As ingredients in aquaculture feed, fish meal and fish oil 
support normal growth for cultured species, and maintain the important 
human health benefits of seafood. However, both the relatively high 
cost of fish meal and fish oil, and growing pressure on the wild 
fisheries that supply it, are fueling research on suitable alternative 
feed ingredients. This research has led to significant improvements in 
reducing the reliance on fish meal and fish oil for feeds for many 
cultured fish species. NOAA and other federal agencies play a vital 
role in continuing to fund feeds research and the transfer of 
technology to industry. For example, in 2008, NOAA is partnering with 
the U.S. Department of Agriculture on an initiative to advance the 
development and commercialization of alternatives to fish meal and fish 
oil in aquaculture feeds. 

Two additional topics of importance to NOAA are not adequately 
addressed in the report: offshore shellfish aquaculture and regional 
initiatives to regulate offshore aquaculture under existing fishery 
management authorities. Shellfish aquaculture accounts for most of the 
current U.S. marine aquaculture production (over 80 percent by value), 
and in 2008, NOAA is sponsoring a symposium on Shellfish Aquaculture 
and the Environment. Although the symposium will focus mainly on issues 
associated with existing operations in coastal areas, expansion of 
coastal shellfish aquaculture production is limited by coastal 
development–which has made it difficult to find appropriate, affordable 
sites closer to shore–and interest in open ocean mussel farming is 
growing rapidly in the United States. Commercial fishermen and others 
in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and California have established open 
ocean production of mussels as a way to supplement their income. This 
highlights the natural synergy linking aquaculture with many aspects of 
commercial and recreational fishing. 

(See comment 3): 

It should also be noted the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council 
is developing a generic amendment to several of its Fishery Management 
Plans that would establish a permitting program for aquaculture 
facilities in federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico. All of the issues 
identified in the GAO report have been addressed in various scoping 
documents prepared by the Council in cooperation with NOAA and have 
been informed by extensive public input. It is possible the Council may 
submit its proposal for Secretarial review later this year. 

(See comment 4): 

The following are GAO's comments on the Department of Commerce's letter 
dated April 25, 2008. 

GAO Comments: 

The issues identified by NOAA are outside the scope of our review, 
which was to identify key elements of a federal regulatory framework 
for offshore aquaculture. 

1. We believe our statements regarding the lack of data on the 
environmental impacts from large-scale commercial offshore aquaculture 
operations are appropriate. As NOAA points out, these large-scale 
operations do not yet exist. On page 9 of the report, we stated that 
environmental monitoring at the existing small-scale research and 
commercial open-ocean aquaculture operations in Hawaii, New Hampshire, 
and Puerto Rico has found modest environmental impacts. However, as 
facilities begin to scale-up, their impacts on the marine environment 
could become more pronounced. Given the lack of such large facilities 
to date, it is too early to know what the environmental impacts of 
large-scale commercial offshore aquaculture facilities will be. 

2. We believe that the report adequately discusses offshore shellfish 
aquaculture within the context of offshore aquaculture. Most of the 
policy issues raised in the report apply equally to shellfish and fish 
aquaculture. For instance, the need for clear federal leadership, a 
sound permitting system, and additional research all apply equally to 
shellfish and fish. In cases where the issues differ for shellfish and 
fish aquaculture--such as for environmental monitoring protocols--we 
discussed shellfish aquaculture separately from fish aquaculture. 

3. We are aware of the efforts of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management 
Council to develop a generic amendment to their fishery management 
plans to establish an offshore aquaculture program in the Gulf of 
Mexico. While we discuss the roles and responsibilities of fishery 
management councils on pages 19 and 20, we did not discuss this 
regional initiative in our report because it was outside our scope of 
identifying key elements of a federal regulatory framework for offshore 
aquaculture. 

[End of section] 

Appendix IV: Comments from the Environmental Protection Agency: 

United States Environmental Protection Agency:  
Washington D.C.: 
Internet Address (URL) [hyperlink, http://www.epa.gov]: 

April 21, 2008: 

Office Of Water: 

Ms. Anu Mittal: 
U.S. Government Accountability Office: 
Natural Resources and Environment, Room 2T23: 
441 G Street, N.W.: 
Washington, D.C. 20548: 

Dear Ms. Mittal:

Thank you for providing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with 
an opportunity to review the draft report "Offshore Marine 
Aquaculture." We provided comments on an earlier draft of this report 
to GAO staff during a conference call on March 27, 2008. Our comments 
at that time focused on the description of the Clean Water Act programs 
that control the release of pollutants from aquaculture facilities. We 
were pleased to see that the current draft responds to our comments. 

We would like to submit one additional comment on this draft report. On 
page 5, line 4 of the draft, GAO states, "For example, EPA has 
expertise in protecting marine water quality in state waters, and the 
lead federal agency... " We suggest rephrasing this sentence to read, 
"For example, EPA has knowledge of technologies and practices that 
control and reduce the pollutants discharged from open water 
aquaculture, and the lead federal agency." 

If you have any questions about our comments, please let me know, or 
contact Mary Smith, Director of the Engineering and Analysis Division, 
at 202-566-1000. 

Again, thank you for the opportunity to comment. 

Sincerely, 

Signed by: 

Benjamin H. Grumbles: 
Assistant Administrator: 

[End of section] 

Appendix V: Comments from the Department of Agriculture: 

Note: GAO comments supplementing those in the report text appear at the 
end of this appendix. 

USDA: 

United States Research Office: 
Room 216W: 

Department of Education of the Under Jamie L. Whitten Building: 

Agriculture Economics Secretary: 
Washington, DC 20250-0110: 

May 1, 2008: 

In Reply Refer To: Draft Report GAO-08-594, "Offshore Marine 
Aquaculture: Multiple Administrative and Environmental Issues Need to 
Be Addressed in Establishing a U.S. Regulatory Framework" (360830) 

Ms. Anu K. Mittal: 
Director: 
Natural Resources and Environment: 
United States Government Accountability Office: 
Washington, D.C. 20548: 

Dear Ms. Mittal: 

I am responding on behalf of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), 
Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES), 
and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). Thank you for 
the opportunity to review and comment on the subject draft report. 
General comments are provided for your use in preparing the final 
report. 

I would like to take this opportunity to clarify two points: KEY 
Program Administration Issues (P. 17): 

First in oral comments, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials 
stressed that a mechanism for a coordinated Federal-wide research 
framework exists through the Joint Subcommittee on Aquaculture (JSA) of 
the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Further, USDA emphasized 
the wide diversity of its aquaculture research portfolio that is not 
limited, influenced or directed by water salinity or the aquatic 
environment of production systems or their locations. These comments 
were not reflected in this report. 

(See comment 1.): 

USDA administers numerous major programs to encourage and support the 
development of private-sector aquaculture in freshwater, brackish 
water, and marine environments. USDA recognizes private-sector farming 
of fish and shellfish as a form of agriculture. Delineation of 
aquaculture research into marine and freshwater components is complex, 
as some species have life cycles in both environments; some hybrids 
involve crosses of freshwater and marine species; and new advancements 
in technology include growing marine species under low salinity culture 
conditions that are much lower than their natural marine environment. 
Programs supported by USDA include research to develop husbandry 
practices to control and manage predictably the entire life cycle of 
marine species for commercial production; improved breeding stocks of 
production animals; nutrition programs to improve diets and nutrient 
utilization; aquatic animal health; extension, education; economics; 
statistical reporting; marketing support; farm services; risk 
management; natural resource conservation; and other services provided 
to U.S. agriculture. 

USDA has made significant investments in these programs over the last 
ten years with substantial impacts on the development of the diverse 
U.S. aquaculture industry. 

USDA firmly believes that the U.S. aquaculture industry and our public 
are best-served through. interagency cooperation and collaboration and 
that the JSA is an excellent coordinating structure to facilitate multi-
agency planning and coordination of research and development programs. 

Regulatory Framework Questionnaire (Appendix I, P. 46):  

Second, USDA (ARS, APHIS, and CSREES) did not provide a written 
response to the GAO questionnaire because many questions sought 
opinions on a variety of policy issues - e.g., "in your opinion which 
one of the following agencies, if any, should be the lead agency for 
funding marine aquaculture research?" USDA already has provided 
information on the Department's official position for a number of 
issues and policies related to aquaculture. USDA officials did not feel 
that it was appropriate to provide individual opinions related to 
policy matters through a questionnaire that was provided to diverse 
stakeholders. 

The two comments have been coordinated with the staffs of both CSREES 
and APHIS. Once again, we appreciate the chance to review and comment 
on this draft report. 

Sincerely, 

Signed by: 

Gale A. Buchanan:  
Under Secretary: 

cc:
C. Hefferan, CSREES: 
C. Smith, APHIS: 

The following are GAO's comments on the Department of Agriculture's 
letter dated May 1, 2008. 

GAO Comment: 

We believe the Joint Subcommittee on Aquaculture was adequately 
addressed in the report. Specifically, we mentioned on page 11 that 
USDA chairs the interagency Joint Subcommittee on Aquaculture and that 
the Subcommittee is currently working to update the federal strategic 
plan for aquaculture research. In addition, characterizing all of 
USDA's aquaculture-related research activities was not within the scope 
of our report. Rather, our report is focused on offshore marine 
aquaculture. As such, we reported what stakeholders told us regarding 
research related to offshore marine aquaculture. 

[End of section] 

Appendix VI: GAO Contact and Staff Acknowledgments: 

GAO Contact: 

Anu K. Mittal, Director, (202) 512-9846, or mittala@gao.gov: 

Staff Acknowledgments: 

In addition to the individual named above, Stephen D. Secrist, 
Assistant Director; Leo G. Acosta; Nancy Crothers; Kathleen Gilhooly; 
Janice M. Poling; Katherine Raheb; Jerry Sandau; Julie E. Silvers; 
Barbara Steel-Lowney; Shana Wallace; and Monica L. Wolford, made 
significant contributions to this report. 

[End of section] 

Footnotes: 

[1] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Fisheries 
and Aquaculture Department, The State of World Fisheries and 
Aquaculture 2006 (Rome, Italy: 2007). 

[2] Concerns about disease interactions between wild fish and 
aquaculture facilities received attention recently in response to a 
2007 study of nearshore salmon aquaculture operations in British 
Columbia. The study argued that aquaculture facilities near inlets and 
channels where juvenile salmon migrate from fresh to marine waters have 
led to damaging levels of sea lice transmission from aquaculture-raised 
fish to wild populations. Other scientists disagreed, noting that there 
are many wild sources of sea lice that could have accounted for the sea 
lice infections of wild salmon and disputed some of the methods used in 
the study. 

[3] Regional fishery management councils are composed primarily of 
federal and state fishery management officials and individuals selected 
by the Secretary of Commerce from lists submitted by the Governors of 
the states in the councils' regions. 

[4] The bills were introduced as S. 1195 in 2005 and as H.R. 2010 and 
S. 1609 in 2007. 

[5] Marine Aquaculture Task Force, Sustainable Marine Aquaculture: 
Fulfilling the Promise; Managing the Risks (Takoma Park, MD: 2007); 
University of Delaware, Recommendations for an Operational Framework 
for Offshore Aquaculture in U.S. Federal Waters (Newark: 2005); U.S. 
Commission on Ocean Policy, An Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century 
(Washington, D.C.: 2004); Pew Oceans Commission, America's Living 
Oceans: Charting a Course of Sea Change (Washington, D.C.: 2003). 

[6] Knapp, G., C. Roheim, and J. Anderson, The Great Salmon Run: 
Competition between Wild and Farmed Salmon (Washington, D.C.: TRAFFIC 
North America and World Wildlife Fund, 2007). 

[7] Ostrowski, Anthony. Hawaii Offshore Aquaculture Research Project- 
Phase I. (Waimanalo, HI: 2000); Ostrowski, Anthony. Hawaii Offshore 
Aquaculture Research Project-Phase II. (Waimanalo, HI: 2001); Helsley, 
Chuck. Hawaii Offshore Aquaculture Research Project--Phase III: 
Critical Research and Development Issues for Commercialization and 
Supplement for Acquisition of Initial Sedimentation Rate Data around 
Sea Cages Operating off the Coast of Oahu. (Waimanalo, HI: 2007). 

[8] The Clean Water Act generally prohibits discharge of pollutants 
into waters of the United States. NPDES permits include limits on the 
pollutants that can be released, as well as monitoring requirements to 
ensure that a stipulated level of water quality is retained. 

[9] Alston, Dallas, et al. Environmental and Social Impact of 
Sustainable Offshore Cage Culture Production in Puerto Rican Waters. 
(Mayaguez, PR: 2005); Ward, Larry, et al. Atlantic Marine Aquaculture 
Center Open Ocean Aquaculture Annual Progress Report. (Durham, NH: 2001-
2007). 

[10] In addition to USDA, other member agencies of the Joint 
Subcommittee on Aquaculture are: Department of Commerce, Department of 
the Interior, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human 
Services, EPA, Corps, Small Business Administration, Agency for 
International Development, Tennessee Valley Authority, National Science 
Foundation, and Farm Credit Administration. 

[11] 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321-4347. 

[12] Pub. L. No. 106-256, Sec. 3(f)(1), 114 Stat. 647 (2000). 

[13] Marine Aquaculture Task Force, University of Delaware, and U.S. 
Commission on Ocean Policy. 

[14] Marine Aquaculture Task Force, University of Delaware, and U.S. 
Commission on Ocean Policy. 

[15] Marine Aquaculture Task Force, University of Delaware, and U.S. 
Commission on Ocean Policy. 

[16] The sixth council representative said that the council does not 
have a unified position on whether they want to be involved in 
permitting issues for every proposed project. 

[17] See NOAA's interpretation in Memorandum from Jay S. Johnson, 
Deputy General Counsel, NOAA, & Margaret F. Hayes, Assistant General 
Counsel for Fisheries, NOAA, to James W. Brennan, Acting General 
Counsel, NOAA, Regulation of Aquaculture in the EEZ (Feb. 7, 1993). 

[18] The exemption applies only to hatchery-raised fish that were not 
taken from the wild. If an aquaculture operation harvested wild fish 
for broodstock--adult fish kept for breeding purposes--or to put in 
offshore cages, their wild harvests would still be subject to catch 
restrictions. 

[19] The rights granted by permits versus leases can vary depending on 
how they are written. 

[20] Although NOAA could theoretically issue leases for aquaculture 
facilities between 3 and 12 miles, the administration's 2007 
legislative proposal for offshore aquaculture would authorize permits 
for all aquaculture facilities in federal waters. NOAA officials said 
they prefer this approach because it sets up a consistent regulatory 
framework throughout federal waters. 

[21] Best management practices are operating procedures, schedules of 
activities, maintenance procedures, and other management practices that 
aquaculturists can use to prevent or reduce impacts on the ocean 
environment. 

[22] Marking or tagging could be done in a variety of ways. For 
instance, Washington state requires that aquaculture-raised fish be 
exposed to different temperatures throughout the rearing process in a 
hatchery (before the fish are transferred to a marine cage). These 
temperature changes create a distinctive pattern, similar to tree 
rings, on a particular bone in the fish, thereby making it identifiable 
as from a hatchery in Washington. Maine's aquaculture industry 
currently uses a genetic method of marking fish in which the genetics 
of aquaculture-raised fish are distinctive and documented so that a 
sample of scales taken from an aquaculture-raised fish can identify the 
facility where that fish was raised. In addition to these methods, 
physical tags could also be used, though two stakeholders mentioned 
that tagging fish causes stress and increases mortality. 

[23] These pretesters were: Susan Bunsick, Policy Analyst, NOAA 
Aquaculture Program, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; 
Mark Drawbridge, M.S., Senior Research Biologist, Hubbs-SeaWorld 
Research Institute; Roger Fleming, Attorney, Earthjustice; and W. 
Richard Smith, Jr., Partner, Robinson & Cole LLP. 

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