Redistributed as a Service of the National Library for the Environment*
Aquaculture and the Federal Role
Eugene H. Buck and Geoffrey S. Becker
September 9, 1993
Aquaculture is broadly defined as the production of fish, shellfish, and aquatic plants in a controlled environment. U.S. aquaculture was, until recently, considered both a minor part of the commercial fisheries industry and, within agricultural circles, a specialty product aimed at niche markets. But the industry grew rapidly over the past decade, fueled by a combination of growing consumer demand, a beneficial price differential between aquacultural products and wild catch, and the continuing depletion of popular fish species in the wild.
This growth has brought new interest in examining what role, if any, the Federal Government should play in supporting the industry. Already in place is the National Aquaculture Act of 1980 (Pub. L. 96-362), which is intended to promote and support the industry, and to insure coordination of the various Federal programs and policies affecting it. Today, about a dozen independent agencies and departments of the Federal Government together claim a total of approximately 30 aquaculture-related programs. However, the major programs and resources are located within three Departments: Agriculture, which among other things is charged with coordinating national aquaculture policy, Commerce, and Interior.
Those who argue for continued and/or expanded Federal involvement in aquaculture believe government assistance -- research dollars, technical and management expertise, marketing promotion, and other means -- is necessary for the industry to realize its commercial potential. They point to the economic contribution the industry can make to many financially-strapped rural communities, to meeting the increased consumer demand for fish products in the face of declining wild stocks, and to stiff international competition, among other considerations. They cite the success of the United States in food production of other animals and plant food crops after appropriate research and extension efforts.
Yet some question exists as to whether aquaculture requires additional assistance. The very fact that the industry has experienced significant growth in production and demand in recent decades demonstrates that it could expand and prosper with little if any Federal help, it has been argued. Also, why should aquaculture receive more help when other Federal agricultural programs are undergoing budget cuts to help reduce the Federal deficit?
Policymakers may have an opportunity to ponder these issues in coming months, because appropriations authority for the 1980 Act expires on September 30, 1993. Several lawmakers have already expressed an interest in new legislation, not only extending existing authority but also expanding significantly the responsibilities of the Federal Government -- and particularly the U.S. Department of Agriculture -- in aquaculture policy.
Aquaculture is broadly defined as the production of fish, shellfish, and aquatic plants in a controlled environment. Types of aquaculture include mariculture, or production of fish in a marine environment; fish farming, usually applied to freshwater commercial aquaculture operations (catfish farms are an example); ocean ranching, used mainly by the salmon industry which cultures juveniles, releases them to mature in the open ocean, and catches them when they return as adults to spawn; and net-pen culture, also used by the salmon industry wherein fish remain captive throughout their lives in marine pens built from nets. Fish hatcheries generally refer to government aquaculture facilities that raise fish for recreational stocking as well as for mitigation of aquatic resource and habitat damage.
World aquaculture production in 1990 was estimated at 8.4 million metric tons (MMT) of finfish, 0.7 MMT of crustaceans (e.g., crayfish, shrimp, lobster) 3 MMT of mollusks (e.g., clams, oysters), 3.2 MMT of aquatic plants, and less than 0.1 MMT of other species (e.g., alligators). Thus, all forms of aquaculture accounted for about 16 percent of the 97.2 MMT total world harvest of aquatic living resources in 1990.
In the United States, aquaculture was, until recently, considered both a minor part of the commercial fisheries industry and, within agricultural circles, a source of specialty products aimed at niche markets. But the industry grew rapidly over the past decade, fueled by a combination of growing consumer demand, a beneficial price differential between aquacultural products and wild catch, and the continuing depletion of popular fish species in the wild.
In 1990, U.S. commercial aquaculture production was about 390,000 metric tons (MT), about 2.5 percent of total world aquaculture production; these products were valued at more than $760 million. That represented less than 7 percent of the total (wild and cultured, by weight) U.S. fish and shellfish harvest. Nonetheless, it was a fourfold increase over 1980 U.S. production of 92,000 MT valued at $192 million, demonstrating the tremendous growth in the industry over the past decade.
U.S. aquaculture ranges from relatively large, vertically integrated corporations employing several hundred workers to many smaller, "family-sized" farmers. Aquatic animals and plants are grown in a wide variety of culture systems including static-water ponds, raceways, and open-water cages. Yields, production costs, water use, and waste discharge vary greatly depending upon the type of system.
Aquaculture operations can have a substantial economic and employment impact in surrounding communities, making use of feed crops and feed mills, equipment dealers, and other input suppliers. But, improperly managed, aquacultural operations also may threaten the local environment because they can discharge large volumes of wastewater containing potentially high levels of pollutants.
More than 80 percent of U.S. aquaculture production involves freshwater species. The leader by far is catfish, with total farm sales of $316 million in 1992 (down from $329 million in 1990, the result of weaker markets causing larger inventories and lower prices). (1) Catfish production is concentrated in the central southern States (i.e. Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana). Catfish growers are among the more organized aquaculture operators, and have aggressively sought to open new markets and increase production.
The second most important species is rainbow trout, with sales valued at $67 million in 1992 (down from $77 million in 1990, because of increased foreign competition and lower prices). Rainbow trout are grown throughout the United States, with significant concentration in Idaho. Other freshwater species are crawfish (more than $50 million in 1990), baitfish, ornamentals for the aquarium trade, hybrid striped bass, tilapia, yellow perch, walleye, largemouth bass, sunfish, sturgeon, and freshwater prawns.
Major marine species cultured in the United States include oysters (more than $61 million in 1990), both Pacific and Atlantic salmon ($55-60 million in 1992), and clams (more than $12 million in 1990). Oyster and clam production is centered on the mid-Atlantic coast, in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, and in the State of Washington. Production of oysters and clams has declined in recent years, due to disease and water quality problems. Salmon production is concentrated in the States of Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and Maine. Additional marine species cultured include mussels, shrimp, softshell crabs, scallops, abalone, various tropical finfish, and seaweed. Problems and challenges facing commercial mariculture include perceptions of market competition with fishermen (especially for salmon) and ability to obtain State and local use permits for tidal lands and coastal waters.
Federal and State Governments operate public aquaculture facilities that raise fish for recreational stocking as well as for mitigation of resource and habitat damage. One of the largest programs was initiated by the Mitchell Act (Act of May 11, 1938, as amended; 16 U.S.C. 766-767) to produce salmon and anadromous trout to mitigate for losses from construction of hydroelectric dams in the Columbia River Basin. Government hatchery programs have introduced and maintained salmon in the Great Lakes, introduced brown trout to North America from Europe, and transplanted rainbow and steelhead trout widely in the eastern United States. Many State hatchery programs receive some funding from the Federal Sport Fish Restoration Act (Wallop-Breaux Fund) program (Act of August 9, 1950 as substantially amended by Pub. L. 98-369, 16 U.S.C. 777-777k). The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) operates the majority of Federal hatcheries as part of the National Fish Hatchery System. After closure and/or transfer of several hatcheries to States or sale to private owners in the early- and mid-1980s, the National Fish Hatchery System consolidated and stabilized its operations, in some cases contracting with private aquaculture operators for fish production. Currently, FWS operates more than 60 fish production and distribution facilities, annually producing more than 200 million fry fingerling, and adult fish. Major species produced include walleye, chinook salmon, northern pike, rainbow trout, bluegill, lake trout, chum salmon, steelhead trout, and channel catfish.
Early federally-sponsored aquaculture efforts were primarily hatchery operations, meaning the rearing of the fish ended with their release as juveniles into the wild. A U.S. Commissioner of Fish and Fisheries was first designated in 1871, and the Commissioner began an artificial propagation program in 1878 because of decreased marine fish landings off the Atlantic Coast.
Today, about a dozen independent agencies and departments of the Federal Government together claim a total of approximately 30 aquaculture-related programs. Some of these agencies are sources of financial or technical assistance to the industry; others are required to implement and enforce regulatory requirements affecting producers. (2)
The major programs and resources are located within three Departments: Agriculture (USDA), Commerce, and Interior. While USDA focuses primarily on assisting private aquaculture, the Departments of Commerce and the Interior concentrate more extensively on aquaculture providing public benefits. The Health and Human Services Department's Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are among other Federal agencies with notable responsibilities affecting aquaculture.
To insure coordination of the various Federal programs and policies affecting the industry, and to promote and support it, Congress passed the National Aquaculture Act of 1980 (Pub. L. 96-362). The Act established the interagency Joint Subcommittee on Aquaculture (JSA), which operates under the aegis of the Federal Coordinating Council on Science, Engineering, and Technology in the President's Office of Science and Technology Policy. The Act was extended through 1993 by §1614 of the Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990 (Pub.L. 101-624; 16 U.S.C. 2809).
The JSA's mission is to serve as the Federal Government-wide coordinating group to increase the overall effectiveness of Federal research, development, and assistance programs in aquaculture. The Secretary of Agriculture permanently chairs the JSA, and, in consultation with the Secretaries of Commerce and Interior, is charged with reporting every 2 years to Congress on the status of the industry and related matters. The JSA, which meets quarterly in Washington, D.C., includes representatives of more than a dozen separate Federal agencies.
The JSA has organized task forces around six key issues that it has identified as significantly affecting U.S. aquaculture. These task forces are: (3)
As noted, the 1980 Act, as amended, gives the lead role in aquaculture to USDA. The Department's Office of Aquaculture, located within the Cooperative State Research Service (CSRS), coordinates both JSA and in-house USDA activities. Much of the USDA in-house effort is directed toward research, information, and extension activities in support of private sector production on private lands.
Title XIV of the Agriculture and Food Act of 1981 (Pub. L. 97-98) significantly expanded USDA's aquaculture research capabilities by adding a new aquaculture subtitle to the National Agricultural Research, Extension, and Teaching Policy Act of 1977 (7 U.S.C. 3101 et seq.). This subtitle authorized USDA cooperative research and extension funding for aquaculture, first permitted the establishment of four regional aquaculture centers, and required the creation of a USDA advisory board on aquaculture. The Food Security Act of 1985 (Pub. L. 99-198) further expanded authorization language regarding the Department's work, and set the stage for funding, beginning with a fiscal year 1987 USDA appropriation, of four (and later five) regional aquaculture centers under the purview of the USDA Office of Aquaculture. Centers are located at the University of Massachusetts, Mississippi State University, Michigan State University, the University of Washington, and The Oceanic Institute (Hawaii).
The work at these centers complements a number of other CSRS and Agricultural Research Service (ARS) programs and activities, including a competitively-awarded Aquaculture Special Research Grant Program and special congressionally-designated grants in the field. ARS supports research on finfish and shrimp genetics, breeding, nutrition, disease, water quality, and production systems; CSRS supports a variety of research and education activities in cooperation with the State Land Grant universities. USDA support for aquaculture research, extension, and teaching totaled about $26 million for fiscal year 1993.
The commercial fisheries industry, including aquaculture, can benefit from the Market Promotion Program (MPP), Commodity Credit Corporation Credit Guarantee Programs, the Pub. L. 480 (Food for Peace) Program, and the Foreign Agricultural Service's overseas market analysis work. In fiscal year 1993, for example, various fisheries and shellfish promotion groups received a total of about $8 million through MPP.
Aquaculture operations are eligible for the farm lending programs of USDA's Farmers Home Administration, including ownership, operating, and economic disaster loans (see the Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act, Pub. L. 87-128; 7 U.S.C. 1921 et seq.). Also, USDA's Rural Development Administration (RDA) has several programs that might potentially benefit commercial fisheries and aquaculture, including RDA business and industry loan guarantees to finance the purchase of boats, equipment, and processing plants in rural areas; community facility loans and loan guarantees to help finance docks and related facilities; and rural business enterprise grants.
The Disaster Assistance Act of 1988 (Pub. L. 100-387) included food fish in the definition of livestock eligible for emergency livestock assistance; the Dire Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act of 1992 (Pub. L. 102-368) permitted disaster payments to aquacultural producers suffering losses due to Hurricane Andrew and other recent natural disasters. These laws, both providing ad hoc rather than permanent assistance, nonetheless set a precedent for including fish farmers in future disaster relief for farmers.
The 1986 farm law mandated the establishment of a National Aquaculture Information Center at the National Agricultural Library to serve as a repository for national aquaculture information. Also, the National Agricultural Statistics Service collects and publishes data on fish farming, and the Economic Research Service has an aquaculture specialist who prepares and publishes, twice yearly, the Aquaculture Situation and Outlook Report.
Fish (including aquacultural) products are among the surplus commodities the Secretary of Agriculture has authority to purchase and distribute to needy families and charitable institutions, under §32 of the Act of August 24,1935 (Pub. L. 74-320, as amended; 7 U.S.C. 612). The §32 program is a permanent appropriation setting aside an amount equal to 30 percent of annual U.S. customs receipts to be used for encouraging farm exports, diverting farm surpluses to low-income groups, and related purposes. Most §32 money is simply transferred to USDA's child nutrition program account, but significant amounts are still used to purchase surplus commodities, including some fish products. For example, the $B02 million in commodities purchased by USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service in fiscal year 1992 included canned salmon valued at $6.8 million and catfish valued at $2.7 million.
The Commerce Department, through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA's) National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and NOAA's National Sea Grant College Program, is responsible primarily for research and development in marine, estuarine, and anadromous (fish that return from the ocean to freshwater to breed, such as salmon) species. The National Sea Grant College Program annually funds from $2 million to $3 million in aquaculture research at universities across the Nation. NMFS conducts, on a fee-for-service basis, a voluntary fisheries inspection and grading program that focuses on marketing and quality attributes. This program can be used by processors and packers of aquaculture as well as any other fisheries products; in fact, at least 90 percent of U.S. catfish production benefits from this program's sanitary inspection. NMFS also administers the annual Saltonstall-Kennedy Grant Program (16 U.S.C. 713c-3) that funds practical fisheries research; (4) one of the funding emphases for fiscal year 1994 is "research for domestication and mass culture of living freshwater and marine resources" (58 Federal Register 37709, July 13, 1993). Although NMFS' aquaculture and mariculture efforts declined in the last decade, they are developing new initiatives and are expected to expand their aquaculture program again.
The Interior Department's Fish and wildlife Service (F WS) is responsible for technical research and development of freshwater and anadromous finfish for both recreational and commercial purposes. FWS operates more than 60 facilities in the National Fish Hatchery System to enhance stocks, facilitate restoration and scientific management of fish populations, and mitigate fish losses. Components of this system include fish production and distribution facilities, fish health centers providing expertise in diagnosis and treatment of fish diseases, fish passage facilities providing upstream passage for migratory adults to maintain spawning populations and technology centers to support fish production efforts. Private aquaculture operators find FWS's fish health research particularly important and useful to commercial fish production. In addition, the FWS administers the Lacey Act (16 U.S.C. 3371 et seq.) to regulate the introduction of foreign or domestic fish into new locations.
The Office of Seafood within FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition is the primary Federal office responsible for ensuring the safety of all fish products, including those from aquaculture. FDA derives its authority from the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) of 1938 (Pub. L. 76-717; 21 U.S.C. 301 et seq.), which requires it to ensure the safety of all foods in interstate commerce; and the Public Health Service Act (Pub. L. 78-410; 42 U.S.C. 201 et seq.), which empowers the Department of Health and Human Services to control the interstate spread of disease, including those carried by foods. Funding for FDA's fish and shellfish activities is estimated at nearly $42 million this year, or about one-fifth of the $209 million FDA will devote to all food regulation in 1993.
Also, FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine evaluates the safety, and pre-approves and monitors the use, of all animal drugs and medicated feeds, including those for commercial aquaculture.
Aquacultural producers can be affected by various Environmental Protection Agency water quality programs -- particularly under the Clean Water Act (33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq.) aimed at protecting the quality of the Nation's waterways and water supplies. For example, under §402 of the Clean Water Act (33 U.S.C. 1342), aquacultural operations may have to obtain permits under EPA's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System in order to discharge wastewater into surface waters. EPA also must pre-approve certain chemicals used in aquaculture and, in conjunction with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, regulates the use of natural wetlands.
Elsewhere, the National Science Foundation's Small Business Innovation Research Program provides some funding for aquaculture research at small firms. Also, although the Small Business Administration is specifically precluded from making loans to agricultural (including fish) producers, the agency can offer loans and technical assistance to related businesses, such as feed distributors or food processors.
As noted, the Federal Government already plays two distinct roles in the aquaculture industry. One is to enforce regulatory requirements aimed at protecting the consumer, natural resources, and the environment; the other is to administer programs that support and promote the growth of the industry. Virtually all of the selected policy issues which follow fall into one of these two categories.
What role, if any, should the Federal Government play in further assisting aquaculture? Supporters argue, for example, that the growth in the industry's output has not yet produced the profits that are needed to attract capital for research, drug development, and other needs. Federal assistance -- research dollars, technical and management expertise, marketing promotion, and other means -- can help aquaculture achieve its commercial potential, supporters argue, much as Government assistance over the past century has contributed to the success of other segments of agriculture.
Supporters of increased aid also point to the economic contribution the industry can make to many financially-strapped rural communities, and to increasing consumer demand for fish products in the face of declining wild stocks, among other considerations. Section 2(c) of the National Aquaculture Act of 1980, as amended, notes:
In a 1984 report, FWS had noted that warmwater aquaculture, although generally successful, was still several decades behind traditional livestock husbandry with regard to research and development. The report noted that hundreds of thousands of acres and enough water were available for fish farming -- but that the cooperative efforts of the public and private sectors would be necessary to foster expansion. (6)
Yet some question exists as to whether aquaculture requires additional assistance. The very fact that the industry has experienced significant growth in production and demand in recent decades demonstrates that it could expand and prosper with little if any Government help, it has been argued. Moreover, opponents contend efforts to reduce the huge and persistent Federal deficit should preclude any substantial commitment of public resources at this time. Why should aquaculture receive more help when funding for other Federal agricultural programs has been reduced under a series of budget-cutting laws in recent years, and when some are calling for even deeper cuts in these programs? (7)
Policymakers may have an opportunity to ponder these and related questions in coming months, because appropriations authority for the 1980 Act expires on September 30, 1993. Several lawmakers have already expressed an interest in new legislation, not only extending existing authority but also expanding significantly the responsibilities of the Federal Government -- and particularly USDA -- in aquaculture policy. Legislation to accomplish this has been introduced in the 103rd Congress as S. 1288 by Senator Akaka. Draft legislation is alga reportedly under development in the House and within the Clinton Administration.
If lawmakers were to approve a continued and/or expanded Federal role in support of commercial aquaculture, USDA is likely to remain the lead agency with regard to policy and programs. For example, S. 1288 (Akaka) would strengthen the Department's leadership. Bolstering this position is a statement by a national panel of aquaculture experts, convened in 1987 by the Joint Subcommittee on Aquaculture. Among other recommendations, the panel called for "improved integration of aquaculture with traditional agriculture:"
However, one criticism of the Department is that, 80 far, the focus of its aquacultural work -- emphasizing primarily private production of freshwater species -- has been somewhat narrow. If Congress continues and/or expands USDA's responsibilities, how could the Department be positioned to ensure that it does not neglect other segments of aquaculture, including marine fish and shellfish as well as hatcheries supportive of recreational fisheries, historically within the purview of Commerce and Interior, respectively?
Many lawmakers remain interested in strengthening current laws that regulate the safety of fish and shellfish produced for human consumption. Although FDA currently has primary authority for fish and shellfish safety programs, and NOAA-NMFS inspects fish for quality, these programs have historically been geared toward products harvested in the wild. Some have argued that aquaculture, which is fundamentally an agricultural enterprise, shares more similarities with meat and poultry production than wild fisheries and therefore should be inspected under authority different than that for wild-harvested fish and shellfish. Others believe that the FDA programs, which already cover virtually all foods other than meat and poultry, are the more appropriate models. If new fish and/or shellfish inspection legislation does emerge, how should the products of aquaculture be handled? (For more information on this topic, see CRS Report 93-603 ENR, Seafood Inspection Issues.)
A production issue related to aquatic product safety involves the types of drugs and chemicals used in aquaculture. As noted, the FFDCA requires FDA to approve and monitor the use of all animal drugs and feeds. However, few compounds -- e.g., therapeutic drugs for fish diseases -- have been approved for aquacultural uses, in part because they lack commercial sponsors willing to underwrite the costs of testing and registering them. The limited choices among legal drugs could constrain industry growth, some believe. Thus, FDA is encouraging private aquaculture operators to join the Innovative New Animal Drug program to accelerate data collection on therapeutants.
The industry is looking to the Federal Government for assistance on this problem. One step in this direction was the signing of a Jan. 5, 1993, memorandum of understanding between FDA and FWS on how the two agencies will conduct studies to accelerate the approval of safe and effective compounds. The JSA Working Group on Quality Assurance in Aquaculture Production has also provided a venue for addressing this problem.
Some within the industry believe that a more comprehensive review of fish health regulations is needed, with an eye toward overhauling them. The JSA has already noted the lack of a uniform national fish health strategy (relating to infectious diseases of fish), and appointed a task force to develop one.
Aquaculture operations both are dependent on clean water and are potential sources of water pollution. Therefore, producers have a major stake in Federal, State, and local laws aimed at protecting water quality and regulating its use. Disposal of waste water (and other waste products) from aquaculture operations is likely to become more problematic as the industry expands. Some environmental groups are concerned that pesticides, industrial chemicals, fish wastes, and other substances can be released into surface and ground waters from aquacultural operations. They could seek more extensive controls over aquaculture facilities to ensure that pollution will be minimal or nonexistent. For example, more vigorous enforcement of effluent standards might be undertaken, possibly with financial or other incentives provided to encourage industry compliance.
On the other hand, aquacultural interests believe that their industry, in the main, already employs sound conservation and environmental practices. Some studies have concluded that catfish ponds, under certain conditions, may act similar to wastewater treatment lagoons. (9) Environmental impacts vary greatly, depending on the type of culture system, and proposed or existing regulatory requirements that do not take these differences into account may be ineffective and/or could unfairly constrain industry growth, industry interests argue.
Also, most of the environment-related permits and licenses required of producers are non-federal. One suggestion is that the Federal Government develop model guidelines and procedures that could be adopted by States or localities to improve coordination and reduce industry time and expense in getting necessary permits.
One venue for debating this issue is the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (also known as the Clean Water Act), which is up for reauthorization and amendment in the 103rd Congress.
Major challenges facing public hatcheries and government fisheries managers include increasing concern with competition between hatchery and wild fish of the same species where stocking of public waters has been practiced, and concern that introduction of non-native fish can damage habitat and native fish species. The Lacey Act and the more recent Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act of 1990 (16 U.S.C. 4701 et seq.) provide authority for regulating the introduction of non-native fish and shellfish. An example of particular concern is the recent announcement that black carp from Taiwan and Israel may be offered by private aquaculture operators in Arkansas and Missouri as active predators to control zebra mussels, another exotic species. Critics of such an introduction fear that black carp may decimate native mollusks, many of which are threatened or endangered. Other concerns include whether or not State aquaculture programs, by using Wallop-Breaux funds to stock sport fish outside their native ranges, may be contributing to the endangerment of native fish species.
Aquacultural producers have complained of millions of dollars in losses due to predation by birds, and the National Aquaculture Association has held a symposium on the problem. Efforts to control these losses have brought aquaculture operators into conflict with Federal wildlife protection statutes, most notably the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Among the specific issues in balancing production concerns with those of wildlife conservation include conditions warranting the issuance of bird kill permits; development of effective bird barriers for outdoor ponds and other non-lethal means of predator control; and the need, if any, for more research and funding, under USDA's Animal Damage Control and other related Federal programs.
The United States is the world's largest fish and shellfish exporter. Yet most exports are wild-caught products; the majority of U.S. aquaculture production is marketed at home. At the same time, the United States is the second-largest fish and shellfish importer, importing roughly 46 percent (by weight) or 64 percent (by value) of all edible fish and shellfish products consumed by Americans. Aquaculture represents an increasing share of these imports. For example, more than half of the $2 billion in 1992 shrimp imports was farm raised; a significant amount of the salmon imported into the United States also was from aquaculture. (10) Exceptions are catfish and crawfish, where very little is imported.
Many foreign countries now aggressively support fish-farming research and development, and their producers who rapidly adopt new production technologies of for high-value products to overseas buyers at competitive prices. How can the U.S. aquacultural industry better compete internationally? Are there markets at home and overseas that U.S. producers can tap and exploit?
If and when U.S. aquaculture expands into international markets, it will likely face many of the trade conflicts already experienced by other agricultural producers. These conflicts, which have unfolded during ongoing efforts to negotiate a new General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and a North American Free Trade Agreement, include such issue (8) as government subsidization of domestic producers; import barriers; and differing food safety and environmental regulation among countries.
Few argue against the Federal Government taking a lead role in working to resolve these potential conflicts in order to create a more favorable trading climate for the U.S. aquaculture industry. But many unanswered questions remain. For example, what is the most appropriate Federal role with regard to promoting and/or funding aquaculture exports? Should the Federal Government subsidize additional research that could make the industry more competitive internationally? Has it imposed regulatory requirements that are more restrictive than those of other countries?
Since at least 1980, national policy has recognized that the Federal Government can and should play a role in promoting the production and marketing of farm-raised fish and shellfish. At the same time, Federal, State, and local governments are under increasing public pressure to aggressively protect public health and the environment, conserve natural resources, and take other regulatory actions -- all of which can have major impacts for the aquaculture industry.
Over the years at USDA and other agencies, numerous research, credit, and export programs have been tapped to support and promote the marketing and production of fish and shellfish. These activities are relatively visible and widely recognized by policymakers; fisheries interests have been quite successful in recent years in gaining access to USDA international marketing programs, for example.
But, as the aquaculture industry grows in size and sophistication, policy makers are taking a closer look at how the Federal Government should assist in solving its problems and exploiting future opportunities. Several ongoing studies could provide more direction. The most ambitious is a 2-year, $400,000 project recently initiated by the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment (OTA). This comprehensive study of aquaculture will, among other things, identify emerging aquacultural technologies, assess the current and potential roles of public and private entities in the development and implementation of these technologies; study Federal and State regulatory concerns and issues; and develop policy options for Congress. It is not expected to be completed before October 1994, although an interim report is scheduled for release in January 1994.
Elsewhere, several JSA member agencies recently provided funding to a private contractor to prepare an "aquacultural regulations guidebook," now in draft form. This guidebook is aimed at satisfying a requirement, under §1614 of the 1990 Farm Act, that the JSA compile a listing, by Jan. 1, 1992, of Federal and State laws, rules, and regulations affecting the production and marketing of aquacultural products. Also, CSRS has provided money to the National Association of State Aquaculture Coordinators (which is affiliated with the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture) to compile a State-by-State listing of the various permits required for aquaculture; this study is nearing completion.
Meanwhile, several legislative initiatives -- such as the Clean Water Act reauthorization and bills to extend and amend the National Aquaculture Act of 1980 -- could move forward. They are likely to bring policy decisions with potentially profound impacts for the aquaculture industry.
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Aquaculture: A Review of Recent Experience. Paris, 1989. 331 p.
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Aquaculture: Developing a New Industry. Paris, 1989. 126 p.
Rychlak, Ronald J., and Ellen M. Peel. Swimming Past the Hook: Navigating Legal Obstacles in the Aquaculture Industry. Environmental Law, v. 23, no. 3 (1993): 837-868.
U.S. Congress. House. Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries. Subcommittee on Fisheries and Wildlife Conservation and the Environment. Opportunities for Growth in Marine Aquaculture and Marine Biotechnology Industries. Sept. 22, 1992. 102nd Cong., 2nd Sess., U.S. Govt. Print. Off., Washington, 1992. 136 p. "Serial No. 102-94"
U.S. Congress. House. Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. Subcommittee on Natural Resources, Agriculture Research, and Environment. Future Application of Aquaculture and Marine Biotechnology to the Nation's Estuaries and Coastal Waters. May 15, 1989. 101st Cong., 1st Sess., U.S. Govt. Print. Off., Washington, 1989. 139 p. "No. 28"
U.S. Department of Agriculture. Aquaculture: A Guide to Federal Government Programs. National Agricultural Library, August 1992. 34 p.
-----. Aquaculture Situation and Outlook Report. Commodity Economics Division, Economic Research Service, Washington, published twice annually.
U.S. National Research Council. Committee on Assessment of Technology and Opportunities for Marine Aquaculture in the United States. Marine Aquaculture: Opportunities for Growth. Marine Board, Commission on Engineering and Technical Systems, Washington, DC. National Academy Press, 1992. 290 p.
1 USDA. Economic Research Service. Aquaculture Situation and Outlook Report. March 1993, AQUA-10. p. 23.
2 Unless noted, sources for this section are: USDA, National Agricultural Library, Aquaculture: A Guide to Federal Government Programs, August 1992; and National Academy of Sciences, National Research Council, Marine Aquaculture: Opportunities for Growth, 1992.
3 JSA. Aquaculture in the United States: Status, Opportunities, and Recommendations. June 1993. Also see the discussion in "Selected Issues" beginning on page 9.
4 The §32 law was amended to require, beginning in 1954, that 30 percent of all customs receipts earned from fish product imports be transferred from USDA to the Secretary of Commerce for fisheries research and related purposes. In fiscal year 1993, for example, Commerce received about $61.4 million of the total §32 appropriation of nearly $5 billion. Generally less than $10 million of the amount received by the Secretary of Commerce is expended for the Saltonstall-Kennedy Grant Program.
5 Sources include Harvey, David J., USDA, Economic Research Service, Outlook for U.S. Aquaculture, Dec. 4, 1991; Joint Subcommittee on Aquaculture, Aquaculture in the United States: Status, Opportunities, and Recommendations, May 1992; and various publications of the National Aquaculture Association and the Catfish Farmers of America.
6 U.S. Department of the Interior. Third Report to the Fish Farmers: Status of Warmwater Fish Farming and Progress in Fish Farming Research. Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington, 1984. 270 p.
7 Concerns revolve not only around the level of Federal assistance but also around how such assistance is provided. For example, one industry group has complained that Government loan guarantees have created an overcapacity in catfish processing plants, which has resulted in severe pricing and marketing cycles.
8 JSA. Aquaculture in the United States: Status, Opportunities, and Recommendations. May 1992.
9 Tucker, C.S. Quality of Potential Effluents from Channel Catfish Culture Ponds. In National Livestock, Poultry, and Aquaculture Waste Management. John Blake, et al., eds. American Society of Agricultural Engineers, St. Joseph, MI, 1992. p. 177-184.
10 USDA, Economic Research Service, Agricultural Outlook, May 1993.
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