Federal Environmental Permitting of Offshore Aquaculture: Coverage and Challenges

Date01 September 2015
9-2015 NEWS & ANALYSIS 45 ELR 10875
Permitting of
Coverage and
by Read Porter and Rebecca Kihslinger
Read Porter is a Senior Attorney with the
Environmental Law Institute (ELI). Rebecca
Kihslinger is a Science and Policy Analyst at ELI.
Aquaculture is an important and growing element of
the domestic and international food supply; however,
the industry has grown slowly in the United States,
where oshore facilities remain rare despite recent
interest in deploying new facilities. Commentators
have blamed this situation on a complex regulatory
environment and unsettled regulatory practice. e
authors argue, to the contrary, that the existing statu-
tory and regulatory framework is suciently robust to
eectively manage the environmental impacts of o-
shore aquaculture, and suciently exible to enable
agencies to address critical impacts. On the other
hand, implementation is a primary challenge aect-
ing oshore aquaculture permitting and sustainabil-
ity. Implementation issues may currently constrain the
industry, but can be overcome through institutional
development and capacity-building.
I. Introduction
e global aquaculture industry is growing rapidly due to
increasing demand for seafood to feed a growing popula-
tion. Globally, animal aquaculture increased at an annual
rate of 6.2% between 2000 and 2012, reaching an all-time
high of $137.7 billion (66.6 million metric tons) in 2012.1
Aquaculture now provides 42% of the seafood produced
worldwide,2 and its share of both the global market and
total production continues to increase. e World Bank
predicts that aquaculture will reach parity with c apture
sheries by 2030, providing 60% of edible seafood on a
global basis.3
e U.S. aquaculture experience contrasts w ith the
global story of consistent and ongoing growth, as domes-
tic production has declined since 2005.4 e government,
including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Admin-
istration (NOAA) Oce of Aquaculture, continues to seek
new models a nd approaches to reverse this decline a nd
stimulate growth of the sector. Federal policies, includ-
ing the National Ocean Policy Implementation Plan and
NOAA’s Aquaculture Policy, outline goals and directives
aimed at encouraging and fostering the development of sus-
tainable marine aquaculture within NOAA’s stewardship
mission and broader environmental, social, and economic
goals.5 ese policies substantially focus on development
of an oshore aquaculture sector, and are allied with recent
policy developments to facilitate oshore aquaculture of
both shellsh and nsh.6
Notably, NOAA has issued proposed regulations to
implement the Fishery Management Plan for Regulat-
ing Oshore Marine Aquaculture in the Gu lf of Mex ico,
the rst comprehensive regional approach to authoriz-
ing aquaculture i n federa l waters —with nal regulations
expected during the second half of 2015; the federal Inter-
1. U N F  A. O., T S  W F
 A: O  C 18 (2014).
2. Id. at 19. is percentage includes marine sh captured for nonfood use.
3. W B, F  2030: P  F  A-
, W B R N. 83177-GLB xiv-xv (2013).
4. Id. at 20.
5. See N O C, N O P I-
 P 6-8 (2013) (detailing implementation of the National Ocean
Policy, Exec. Order No. 13547, 75 Fed. Reg. 43023 (July 22, 2010)); N-
 O  A A. (NOAA), M A-
 P (2011) (expanding on U.S. Department of Commerce Aqua-
culture Policy).
6. In this Article, we dene “oshore” to include ocean waters beyond state
boundaries—generally, waters 3-200 miles from shore.
     
         
       
         
Protection Agency. ese sources are available at www.eli-ocean.org/
Copyright © 2015 Environmental Law Institute®, Washington, DC. Reprinted with permission from ELR®, http://www.eli.org, 1-800-433-5120.
agency Working Group on Aquaculture is working to
streamline permitting for aquaculture in federal waters;
and state and federal government pa rtners in the North-
east Regional Ocean Council h ave established a working
group on aquaculture, focused on applying regiona l data
to aquaculture permitting in federal waters.7 ese polic y
initiatives are moving hand-in-hand with industry inter-
est in moving oshore, as evidenced by the recent issuanc e
of nec essar y permits for oshore production facilities i n
federal waters o Ca lifornia, Hawaii, and Massachusetts
for blue mussel (Mytilus edulis) and almaco jack (Seriola
rivoliana) nsh aquaculture.8
As a new industry in the United States, oshore aqua-
culture production promises environmental and economic
benets and costs. Aquaculture production can produce
edible protein with little environmental impact. For
example, the culture of native shellsh to feed local mar-
kets produces little waste and requires no feed, and it can
displace airlifted product from far-away locations (and the
attendant carbon emissions). However, oshore produc-
tion may result in a variety of environmental impacts. For
example, shellsh lines may entangle marine mammals,
and marine nsh aquaculture has been associated with
a range of impacts, such as consumption of hig h levels of
sh meal and oil sourced from unsustainable wild capture
sheries; water pollution due to discharges of excess feed,
wastes, parasiticides, and other chemicals; and impacts to
protected species and wild stocks due to naturalization of
escaped stocks or disease tra nsmission.9
From an economic perspec tive, producers oshore
can avoid user conic ts and enjoy reduced regulatory
burdens in comparison to coa stal area s and state w aters,
and they may enjoy enha nced production as a result of
favorable ocean conditions. However, oshore produc-
tion h as higher cost s for tra nsportation and facility
design and maintenance, and it may be dicult to raise
capital without a proven economic model or secure prop-
erty rights. Oshore aquacult ure can a lso raise it s own
use c onicts, most notably w ith navigation a nd capture
sheries, and neither agencies nor producers or other
stake holders yet have t he experience or decision frame-
7. See N O C, R   I 
 N O P 2-3 (2015) (highlighting aquacul ture pol-
icy initiatives); Northeast Reg’l Ocean Council, Agenda: Feb. 5, 2015:
Portsmouth, NH, at 5 (20 15) (announcing formation of working group);
Fisheries of the Caribb ean, Gulf, and South Atlantic; Aquaculture, 79
Fed. Reg. 51424 (proposed Aug. 28, 2014) [hereinafter   -
ico Aquaculture Propo sed Regulatio ns]; I W G. 
A, I  S G: L, P,
 O  A  R  S  A
G, S, R , C, T,   H-
 ( 2015), availabl e at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/aquacult ure/docs/
8. E L I., U. S. A C   E
R  O  A 20-26 (2015) (review-
ing permitting cas e studies) [hereinafter ELI C  R], avail-
able at http:/ /www.eli.org/research-report/us-arm y-corps-engineers-
regulation-oshore -aquaculture.
9. See generally M A T F: S M
A: F  P; M  R (2007).
work necessar y to eectively predict or proact ively avoid
or manage these impacts.10
Agencies are on the front lines of eorts to ba lance the
benets and costs in order to ensure sustainable ma nage-
ment of oshore aquaculture, as increased oshore activ-
ity requires them to determine how to apply their existing
legislative and regulatory frameworks. While sources have
identied as many as 120 statutory programs with direct
or indirect application to oshore aquaculture,11 respon-
sibility for permitting falls primarily on the U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers (the Corps), NOAA, and/or the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which apply the
Rivers and Harbors Act (RH A), Magnuson-Stevens Fish-
ery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), and Clean
Water Act (CWA), respectively.12
As permitting agencies, these programs also man-
age consultation under a bev y of other statutes central to
environmental considerations during the permitting pro-
cess—notably, the Endangered Species Act (ESA), Marine
Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), Coastal Zone Manage-
ment Act (CZMA), and National Environmental Policy
Act (NEPA).13 Unlike in state waters, where regulatory
systems have long been in place to lease and manage bot-
tomlands for aquaculture through a consistent lead agency,
federal permitting to date has been conducted on a case-
by-case basis. By locating in federal waters, producers can
often avoid state oversight, but they also enter an uncertain
world, one that is based on permits rather than leases.
Many commentators have concluded that this com-
plex regu latory environment, i n combinat ion wit h
unsett led reg ulatory practic e, has created an “un nished
patchwork” that is a primary hindrance to oshore aqua-
culture development14or as t he National Ocea n Policy
Implementation Plan argues, “[g]overn ment i neciency
in the siting, permitting and approva l processes for
aquaculture may be hindering t he domestic aquacultu re
10. See Biliana Cicin-Sain et al., Univ. of Delaware Ctr. for Study of Marine
Policy,  
  17-20 (2001) (reviewing obstacles and
challenges facing oshore aquaculture).
11. Id. at 70.
12. Rivers and Harbors Act (RHA), 33 U.S.C. §403; Magnuson-Stevens Fish-
ery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), 16 U.S.C. §§1801-1884;
Clean Water Act (CWA), 33 U.S.C. §§1251-1387, ELR S. FWPCA
§§101-607. See generally E E. L  P C, E-
 L I.  O F., O A R-
 U  C W A 4 (2012) [hereinafter CWA R],
available at http://eli-ocean.org/wp-content/blogs.dir/3/les/CWA-aqua-
culture.pdf; E E. L  P C, E L
I.  O F., O A R U
 M-S F C  M A
5 (2013) [hereinafter MSA R], available at https://www.eli.org/sites/
default/les/docs/msa-aquaculture.pdf; ELI C R, supra note 8.
13. Endangered Species Act (ESA), 16 U.S.C. §§1531-1544, ELR S. ESA
§§2-18; Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), 16 U.S.C. §§1361-
1421h, ELR S. MMPA §§2-410; Coastal Zone Management Act
(CZMA),16 U.S.C. §§1451-1466, ELR S. CZMA §§302-319; Nation-
al Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. §§4321-4370f, ELR S.
NEPA §§2-209.
14. D. Douglas Hopkins et al., -
  , 2 O  C L.J.
235, 239 (1997); see also Cicin-Sain et al., supra note 10, at 19-21 (collect-
ing sources).
Copyright © 2015 Environmental Law Institute®, Washington, DC. Reprinted with permission from ELR®, http://www.eli.org, 1-800-433-5120.

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