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OPINION

Fried, senators welcome aquaculture in Gulf

Special to the Times

In news releases issued Aug. 20, both Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio indicated support for making federal waters off Florida in the Gulf of Mexico as one of the first locations designated as Aquaculture Opportunity Areas.

Each noted that they had sent a letter to U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, asking that the department consider designating waters off Florida's coast as an AOA.

Echoing Fried’s call were U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, the National Aquaculture Association, the Florida Aquaculture Association, the Florida Farm Bureau Federation, Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, Gulfstream Aquaculture, Ocean Era, Dr. Daniel Benetti of the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, and Dr. Steve Murawski of the University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science.

Selected areas in the Gulf are expected to support multiple aquaculture farm sites of varying types including finfish, shellfish, seaweed, or some combination of these.

"Florida’s Gulf Coast waters are ideal to receive an Aquaculture Opportunity Area, and we welcome today’s announcement towards that end. Our proven aquaculture and seafood history makes our state perfectly positioned to advance an environmentally sustainable offshore aquaculture industry," said Fried.

"As Florida’s lead aquaculture agency, we look to balance economic development with environmental conservation, which has helped our aquaculture industry more than double in 30 years. We look forward to continue working with NOAA and stand ready to help our nation strengthen our domestic seafood supply,” she wrote.

“It is welcome news that NOAA has selected the Gulf of Mexico region as one of the first aquaculture opportunity areas,” Rubio said. “As NOAA determines the exact locations of the aquaculture farm sites, I hope that they consider federal waters near Florida as a common-sense option. I look forward to working with the administration to promote a more resilient domestic food supply chain to reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign fish stocks and help ensure that Americans continue to have access to nutritious seafood.” 

AOAs are defined as geographic areas that have been evaluated for their potential for sustainable commercial aquaculture. Their selection is based on spatial data and current industry interest in developing sustainable aquaculture operations in the region.

Exact locations of aquaculture farm sites are yet to be determined, but will be selected based on public input, in-depth spatial and environmental factor analysis, and in coordination with states and regional fishery commission.

The selection of Aquaculture Opportunity Areas is the first step in a process designed to establish 10 locations nationwide by 2025. Selected areas are expected to support multiple aquaculture farm sites of varying types, including finfish, shellfish, seaweed, or some combination of these farm types. AOAs and an expanded domestic aquaculture industry are critical for our coastal communities' economic and environmental resiliency and national food security.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is the state's lead aquaculture agency, and coordinates and assists in the development of aquaculture and regulates aquafarms to protect and conserve Florida's natural resources. Ranked among the top U.S. states for fresh seafood production with over 1,000 commercial aquaculture operations, Florida's commercial fishing operations supply 84 percent of the nation's grouper, pompano, mullet, stone crab, pink shrimp, spiny lobster, and Spanish mackerel.

Both the commercial fishing and seafood products industries in Florida provide more than 13,000 jobs and have added-value contributions of over $730 million.