Wicker, Schatz, Rubio Introduce AQUAA Act to Advance American Aquaculture

October 28, 2021

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., today introduced the bipartisan Advancing the Quality and Understanding of American Aquaculture (AQUAA) Act of 2021 to establish national standards for sustainable offshore aquaculture. The bill would designate the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as the lead federal agency for marine aquaculture. The legislation would also direct NOAA to harmonize the permitting system for offshore aquaculture for farms in federal waters, and direct the agency to lead a research and development grant program to spur innovation throughout the industry.

“Aquaculture is the fastest growing food production sector, but the U.S. lacks a comprehensive, nationwide system for permitting in federal waters,” said Wicker. “This deficiency prevents the development of aquaculture farms, leading to more seafood imports. Our legislation would establish national standards for offshore aquaculture, enabling U.S. producers to create jobs and meet the growing demand for fresh, local seafood.”

“Hawai‘i’s diverse aquaculture produced over $80 million of finfish, shellfish, and algae in 2019. At the same time, the movement to restore native Hawaiian fishponds such as those at He‘eia and Maunalua continues to develop momentum. This bipartisan bill would increase federal support for both,” said Schatz. “I thank Senators Wicker and Rubio for their partnership, and look forward to working with them to pass this groundbreaking legislation.”

“Marine aquaculture presents an enormous opportunity for Florida’s economy and for the food security of our nation,” Rubio said. “Unfortunately, the absence of a federal permitting and regulatory framework has hindered American aquaculture industries. This bipartisan legislation would establish a transparent permitting process and provide regulatory certainty for this important industry to promote new domestic seafood supply chains.”

For several Congresses, Wicker has been working to pass a comprehensive legislative framework for aquaculture in federal offshore waters. The main provisions of the AQUAA Act include siting, permitting, administration, monitoring, and enforcement necessary for a sustainable, science-based industry. The AQUAA framework would promote food security for the U.S. and provide economic opportunity for sustainable aquaculture and meaningful jobs. After working with many stakeholders to ensure the provisions of AQUAA are practical for federal agencies and optimal for aquaculture farmers, Wicker is encouraged that Congress is getting closer to passage.

The AQUAA Act would:

  • Uphold existing environmental standards while providing regulatory certainty and clarity to the industry;
  • Include a set of national standards to guide development of offshore aquaculture, and aquaculture management plans that implement those standards on a regional scale;
  • Include a national plan to identify and establish areas particularly well-suited for aquaculture;
  • Establish an Office of Marine Aquaculture within NOAA, which would be charged with coordinating the federal permitting process;
  • Establish a permit through NOAA that would give an individual the security of tenure necessary to secure financing for an aquaculture operation; and
  • Fund research and extension services to support innovation and the growth of aquaculture in the United States.

Click here to read the bill.