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Aquaculture Opportunity Areas will expand economic opportunities in coastal and rural areas, and increase seafood security.
An AOA is a defined geographic area that has been evaluated to determine its potential suitability for commercial aquaculture. NOAA will use a combination of scientific analysis and public engagement to identify areas within the AOA that may be environmentally, socially, and economically appropriate for commercial aquaculture.
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NOAA has directives to preserve ocean sustainability and facilitate domestic aquaculture in the U.S. through the National Aquaculture Act of 1980, the NOAA Marine Aquaculture Policy, and Executive Order 13921, “Promoting American Seafood Competitiveness and Economic Growth” (May 7, 2020). NOAA has a variety of proven science-based tools and strategies that can support these directives and help communities thoughtfully consider how and where to sustainably develop offshore aquaculture that will complement wild-capture fisheries, working waterfronts, and our nation’s seafood processing and distribution infrastructure.
Identifying AOAs is an opportunity to use best available global science-based guidance on sustainable aquaculture management, and support the “triple bottom line” of environmental, economic, and social sustainability. This approach has been refined and utilized widely within states and by other countries with robust, sustainable aquaculture sectors.
Considering NOAA-trust resources and stakeholder uses of a defined area will help to encourage the sustainable growth of aquaculture by siting aquaculture farms in ways that minimize impacts to those natural resources and reduce user conflicts while maximizing public input in the AOA identification process.
NOAA’s Aquaculture Program is already moving forward to meet the mandates set by the White House and recently announced the selection of southern California and the Gulf of Mexico as the first regions for focused evaluation to find AOAs. This selection does not mean the entire regions are opportunity areas. Instead, the selection allows NOAA to deploy our resources to investigate the two regions.
The exact AOA locations will be identified based on best-available science, including data-driven siting analysis using hundreds of types of data on ocean conditions and uses such as existing fishing locations. Stakeholder input is also essential and these AOAs will be shaped through a public process.
NOAA Fisheries invited public comment on two aspects of AOAs during a 60-day public comment period. The agency requested information on (1) specific areas to consider for the first two AOAs within the Gulf of Mexico and waters off Southern California; and (2) other areas NOAA should consider nationally for future AOAs.
NOAA has released two Atlases compiling the best available science to inform the identification of AOAs in the Gulf of Mexico and Southern California. Areas in the Atlases have characteristics expected to support multiple types of aquaculture industries including finfish, shellfish, seaweed, or some combination.
NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science developed each Atlas using more than 200 data layers accounting for key environmental, economic, social, and cultural considerations, including fishing interests and marine protected areas. The studies identified nine areas in the Gulf of Mexico and 10 areas in the Southern California Bight that may be suitable for aquaculture, while also reducing conflicts with other ocean uses.