The National Sea Grant Law Center


  • NOAA Fisheries Announces Regions to Host Nation’s First Aquaculture Opportunity Areas

  • August 24th, 2020 — by Zachary Klein — Category: Aquaculture

  • U.S. Army Corps boat

    The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Division (NOAA Fisheries), also known as the National Marine Fisheries Services, announced on August 22, 2020 that two of the nation’s first Aquaculture Opportunity Areas (AOAs) will be in federal waters off southern California and in the Gulf of Mexico. The selections mark the first in a series of steps that will culminate in the creation of 10 AOAs nationwide by 2025, as called for by President Trump’s May 2020 Executive Order on Promoting American Seafood Competitiveness and Economic Growth.

    The Executive Order charged the Secretary of Commerce, acting through NOAA, with identifying AOAs based on their suitability for commercial aquaculture, as the areas are expected to support various kinds of operations, including finfish, shellfish, seaweed, or some combination thereof. This identification process incorporates scientific analysis and public input to reveal which sites are most environmentally, socially, and economically appropriate for the expansion of commercial aquaculture in offshore federal waters. According to NOAA Fisheries, southern California and the Gulf of Mexico were selected for the first two AOAs based on available spatial analysis data and current industry interest in developing sustainable aquaculture operations in the respective regions. The exact size, shape, and location of the AOAs within the two regions remain unknown, however, as NOAA is still examining the best available science and working with stakeholders to make these determinations.

    Issued amid short-term economic uncertainty due to COVID and long-term concerns about the United States’ food security, President Trump’s executive order envisions job creation and greater domestic seafood production through a lighter burden on applicants for offshore aquaculture operations. While the process for realizing this vision is still young, it is likely to gain steam quickly—NOAA must have specific details for the first two AOAs ready by May 2021, and the agency will continue to identify two AOAs per year for the subsequent four years.

    NOAA is intent on maximizing public input in the AOA identification process. To this end, there will be multiple opportunities for public and stakeholder engagement. For example, the agency will request information in 2020 regarding siting considerations for the identification of 10 AOAs over the next five years. This process will be repeated annually until 10 AOAs have been identified. Additionally, NOAA has indicated that there will be public scoping for the environmental reviews that the agency is preparing for each site and public comment periods for each draft of those reviews.

    To learn more about Aquaculture Opportunity Areas, visit:

  • Zachary Klein
    Ocean and Coastal Law Fellow

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