Proposed Aquaculture Management Program in Federal Waters
of the Pacific Islands Region

Public Scoping and Alternative Development

aquaculture net looking up

NOAA Fisheries, in coordination with the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council), intends to prepare a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) to analyze the potential environmental impacts of a federal aquaculture management program.

The National Environmental Policy Act is a United States environmental law that promotes the enhancement of the environment and established the President's Council on Environmental Quality. The law was enacted on January 1, 1970 and requires agencies to consider the possible range of alternatives including the “no action” alternative. The PEIS would analyze alternatives for a federal aquaculture program. Preliminary alternative include:

With the exception of coral reef ecosystem species, which require a Special Coral Reef Ecosystem Fishing Permit, there is no requirement for federal permits to conduct aquaculture in federal waters. Without a management program, future aquaculture operations would develop in an ad hoc manner without federal review or control of the what (species), when, where, or how of an operation.

The Pacific Islands Regional Office has permitted a series of three aquaculture research projects in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) around the Island of Hawaii under the Special Coral Reef Ecosystem Fishing Permit provisions in 50 CFR 665.224. The regulations allow NOAA Fisheries to review and, if appropriate, permit the harvest of coral reef ecosystem management unit species using gear that is not otherwise allowed by regulation. Due to the analysis and coordination required to support each individual permit, this project-based permitting process is resource-intensive and not timely for both the applicant and the Pacific Islands Regional Office.

Global Seafood Production

Aquaculture is the breeding, rearing, and harvesting of fish, shellfish, and plants in all types of water environments, including ponds, rivers, lakes, and the ocean. Aquaculture is used to support restoration activities and produce food, sport, bait, and ornamental fish.

Purpose and Need

The purpose of this action is to develop a management program to support an environmentally sound and economically sustainable aquaculture industry in federal waters of the Pacific Island Region. The program would be implemented by amending the five Fishery Ecosystem Plans that the Council uses to manage fisheries in the Pacific Islands Region.

Action Area — Federal Waters of the Pacific Islands Region

The proposed Fishery Ecosystem Plan amendments would establish a federal management program for aquaculture fisheries in the EEZ (generally 3 to 200 nm) around islands of American Samoa, Guam, Hawaii, the Pacific Remote Islands, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The action area analyzed in the PEIS will depend on the alternatives developed for aquaculture locations.

Action Areas - in the EEZ (generally 3  200 nm) around islands of American Samoa, Guam, Hawaii, the Pacific Remote Islands, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands

Potential Features of an Aquaculture Management Program

  • Permitting Requirements — insurance, emergency plan, baseline studies, reporting
  • Permit Duration — 5, 10, 20 years
  • Allowable Gear Types — cages, net pens, size (capacity, footprint)
  • Allowable Species — native species, finfish only
  • Siting Requirements — zoning, placement, and space between facilities

Potential Environmental Issues

  • Impacts to benthic habitat and other sensitive habitats
  • Impacts to water quality from effluent, chemicals, and antibiotics
  • Impacts from spread of disease and parasites to wild stocks
  • Impacts from escaped cultured fish on wild stocks (genetic transfer, predation)
  • Protected species interactions
  • Use of wild fish stocks for feed
  • Non-native species introductions

Potential Industry/Development Issues

  • Improving permitting process for sustainable aquaculture
  • Creating industry stability and appropriate start-up and operational requirements
  • Redundant permit requirements
  • Lack of clarity in agency roles and responsibilities
  • Conflicting agency mandates
  • Efficiency of MSA and ESA consultation process
  • User conflicts/compensation for use of public resources
  • Potential for ship strikes

Scoping Summary Report

For the Pacific Islands Region Aquaculture Management Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement in Federal Waters, please see here (3.3 MB pdf).

How Can I Submit Comments?

The public scoping period for the Notice of Intent is closed. NOAA Fisheries intends to solicit public comment on the completed draft Environmental Impact Statement later in 2017.