The fastest growing food sector in the world is one that America is not producing

Offshore aquaculture would increase our seafood supply and create jobs. There’s no better time for Congress to act

Cobia fish swimming in an aquapod. (Courtesy Innovasea)
Cobia fish swimming in an aquapod. (Courtesy Innovasea)
Posted October 12, 2020 at 5:30am

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted our lives, businesses and economy. American industries, including the seafood and restaurant sectors, have been faced with unprecedented challenges. During a time when economic stimulus is needed most, the expansion of sustainable aquaculture is one way to create jobs in our communities while feeding Americans with healthy, sustainable, U.S.-raised seafood.

Offshore aquaculture, the process of cultivating farm-raised fish in an ocean environment, is a safe and resource-efficient way to produce protein. In fact, it has a much lower environmental impact than other forms of food production. Domestic aquaculture will complement wild fishing to increase the supply of American seafood at our restaurants and grocery stores, provide jobs in coastal communities, and help revitalize our national seafood industry, which has faced significant economic impacts from the coronavirus pandemic.

With the world population expected to grow to 9 billion by 2050, demand for sustainable protein will increase by at least 70 percent. To meet that demand, we must increase our food production through resource efficient methods. Aquaculture holds the key to the future for food production, utilizing the latest science and technology and industry best practices to produce sustainable seafood in an environmentally friendly way. Because of the benefits that aquaculture can provide, bipartisan support and momentum for domestic aquaculture development has been growing in our nation’s capital and nationwide. 

Just last month, Sens. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., introduced bipartisan legislation to advance American aquaculture development. The Advancing the Quality and Understanding of American Aquaculture, or AQUAA, Act, which has companion legislation in the House, complements a recent executive order on seafood competitiveness and supports the development of an offshore aquaculture industry in U.S. federal waters.

These are positive moves from Washington that I applaud, but further congressional action would help establish America as a leader in seafood production through aquaculture. Because our country lacks a clear regulatory process for establishing offshore aquaculture operations, many American companies build their aquaculture operations in other countries — taking our technology, jobs and revenue overseas. By establishing a clear, predictable regulatory pathway for offshore aquaculture, through the passage of legislation in Congress, the U.S. can tap into the economic opportunities that this industry can provide American communities, including new businesses and jobs.

The emerging aquaculture industry continues to grow worldwide and is projected to maintain its position as the fastest-growing food production technology for the next two decades. Aquaculture now produces more than $230 billion worth of goods annually, and over half of the seafood we consume today is farmed. By 2030, consumption of farmed fish is expected to rise to nearly two-thirds of our total seafood consumption.

But only 5 to 7 percent of seafood consumption is American raised. The U.S. only ranks 16th in aquaculture, despite thousands of miles of coastline. Imagine the potential of this industry in U.S. waters. A doubling of U.S. aquaculture production could create an additional 50,000 direct and indirect jobs, including in coastal states where jobs are often limited and seasonally dependent, providing year-round employment for fishing communities. Increased aquaculture production would also benefit rural America, especially farmers of soybeans, corn and peas – three products that can be used to create fish feed. As demand for alternative fish feed grows, a new market would be created for American farmers while easing pressure on ocean resources.

The U.S. has the potential to be one of the top countries for aquaculture production. With vast coastlines, expansive designated water zones, skilled labor force, superior technology and ample feed sources, the U.S. boasts an abundance of resources that would allow our country to pave the way as a worldwide leader in aquaculture. That is why the seafood industry has been advocating for federal policies and regulations that support the expansion of American aquaculture.

Federal lawmakers should prioritize opportunities to create jobs and provide economic stimulus especially in this ongoing public health crisis. There is no better time for Congress to take further action and move legislation forward to ensure that the U.S. can reap the opportunities of offshore aquaculture. Aquaculture, after all, is the fastest growing food sector in the world, and America can and should be a leader in seafood production.

Horace G. Dawson III is the executive vice president and general counsel of Red Lobster Seafood Co., the world’s largest seafood restaurant company, and a member of the Stronger America Through Seafood coalition.