A new proposed bill, H.R. 3534, that includes language repealing permits for aquaculture facilities (like live rock) in U.S. Federal waters, was recently approved by the U.S. House of Representatives. HR 3534 is now moving to the U.S. Senate and it threatens the current state of marine trade aquaculture such as live rock farms in Florida.
The proposed Bill titled the “Consolidated Land, Energy, and Aquatic Resources Act of 2009” appears to consolidate the management of various resources under a new entity in the Department of the Interior. According to the proposed Bill’s summary, H.R. 3534 aims to:
To provide greater efficiencies, transparency, returns, and accountability in the administration of Federal mineral and energy resources by consolidating administration of various Federal energy minerals management and leasing programs into one entity to be known as the Office of Federal Energy and Minerals Leasing of the Department of the Interior, and for other purposes.
The broad bill includes Section 704 “Offshore Aquaculture Clarification” that is the most important to industries such as the live rock farms in Florida. Sec. 704 aims to take the individual authority away from the Secretary of Commerce, the Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), or the Regional Fishery Management Councils putting the sole authority under the Department of the Interior and the new Office of Federal Energy and Minerals Leasing.Sec. 704 also repeals all aquaculture permits formerly issued under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the permits currently issued for aquaculture farmers in Federal waters.
Live rock farmers like Richard Londeree of Tampa Bay Saltwater, who have taken dry rock out to approved sites in federal waters, potential sit in jeopardy of losing their rights to the areas and the rock they have seeding out in the federal waters known as the Exclusive Economic Zone. As you can read on Richard’s website, dealing with both the state and federal governments has been an arduous chore and with the new management in place, the process could potentially be the end of these facilities.
While centralizing the authority sounds well enough in principle, the immediate repealing of aquaculture permits without having a process in place to evaluate and issue permits in place could be devastating to the industry with farmers losing out on potentially millions of dollars in live rock.
NOAA strongly voiced their opposition to the current state of H.R. 3534 while acknowledging the need for a national aquaculture policy. In her testimony to congress Dr. Jane Lubchenco, the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and the Administrator of NOAA, said, “NOAA believes that aquaculture must be conducted in an environmentally responsible fashion, and that a national aquaculture policy that vests NOAA with authority to ensure that aquaculture is practiced in a sustainable fashion is the best approach.”
“We would like to work with the Committee to address the current ambiguity in authority and create a durable structure for responsible management of aquaculture,” she added. “Section 704 would remove Department of Commerce/NOAA authority to permit or regulate offshore aquaculture under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act) and invalidate existing permits that have been issued under that authority. NOAA recommends deleting Section 704 in its entirety.”
By sifting through the amendments and voting on the issue, Sec. 704 remained in its original, ambiguous format. Dr. Lubchenco also notes the potential for a regulatory gap with the NOAA out of the picture, “There would not be an overarching statute to address environmental and fishery concerns for aquaculture operations in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).”
Also recommended by NOAA would be a grandfather clause instead of the immediate revocation of permits, allowing for the proper setup and analysis of the current aquaculture practices in the EEZ and we couldn’t agree more. While there are probably some unique and negative situations that have surfaced over the years in the aquaculture trade, the diverse nature of aquaculture in the marine environment alone should be respected with a more thought out and detailed plan to address specific issues without such an ambiguous piece of legislation.
To get your voice heard, contact your state Senators to help make them aware of the possible pitfalls for this piece of legislation. Hopefully the Senate will strike or modify Sec. 704 to help address the issues this presents in this ecologically friendly method of live rock production. The entire text of the proposed Bill can be read online with the text from Sec. 107 below.
SEC. 704. OFFSHORE AQUACULTURE CLARIFICATION.
(a) No Authority- The Secretary of Commerce, the Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or the Regional Fishery Management Councils shall not develop or approve a fishery management plan or fishery management plan amendment to permit or regulate offshore aquaculture.
(b) Permits Invalid- Any permit issued for the conduct of offshore aquaculture, including the siting or operation of offshore aquaculture facilities, under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq.) shall be invalid upon enactment of this Act.
(c) Definitions- In this section:
(1) OFFSHORE AQUACULTURE- The term ‘offshore aquaculture’ means all activities related to–
(A) the placement of any installation, facility, or structure in the exclusive economic zone for the purposes of propagation or rearing, or attempting to propagate or rear, any species; or
(B) the operation of offshore aquaculture facilities in the exclusive economic zone involved in the propagation or rearing, or attempted propagation or rearing, of species.
(2) OFFSHORE AQUACULTURE FACILITY- The term ‘offshore aquaculture facility’ means–
(A) a structure, installation, or other complex used, in whole or in part, for offshore aquaculture; or
(B) an area of the seabed or the subsoil used for offshore aquaculture.