Proposed Aquaculture Legislation Prompts Concerns For Health of Wild Fish

The Advancing the Quality and Understanding of American Aquaculture (AQUAA) Act was reintroduced June 7 by Senators Roger Wicker (R-Miss) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). Image: Sen. Schatz.

Bipartisan legislation reintroduced in the U.S. Senate to establish national standards for offshore aquaculture is drawing criticism from a group of fishermen, coastal communities and others concerned about potential adverse impact on factory fish farms on wild fish.

The Advancing the Quality and Understanding of American Aquaculture (AQUAA) Act, reintroduced on June 7 by Senators Roger Wicker (R-Miss) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), would designate the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as the lead federal agency for marine aquaculture and direct NOAA to establish a permitting system for offshore aquaculture for farms in federal waters.

AQUAA would also direct NOAA to lead a research and development grant program to spur innovation in the aquaculture industry.

Schatz called the bill “groundbreaking legislation” that would increase federal support for Hawaii’s diverse aquaculture, which produced over $80 million of finfish, shellfish and algae in 2019, and also support efforts to restore native Hawaiian fishponds.

The legislation would include a national plan to identify and establish areas particularly well suited for aquaculture, establish an office within NOAA charged with coordinating the federal permitting process, and fund research and extension services to support innovation and growth of aquaculture.

The bill drew quick criticism from Don’t Cage Our Oceans, a group of fishermen, coastal community advocates and others who have repeatedly blocked this legislation in recent years, citing concerns that industrial aquaculture could potentially pollute marine ecosystems and put seafood production in the hands of large corporations.

“This bill could effectively turn our shared ocean space into a toilet for factory fish farms, where taxpayer-subsidized corporations would be allowed to grow fish for profit, despite overwhelming public opposition, Don’t Cage Our Oceans Legislative Director James Mitchell said.

Linda Behnken, executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, said AQUAA would only weaken fishing communities nationwide.

“Wild fish populations will be put in jeopardy by farmed fish escapements, disease and the depletion of forage fish for feed. It will only contribute to threats against our coastal economies and marine resources,” she said.

Brett Tolley, a national program coordinator for the North American Marine Alliance, which represents small scale fishing families nationwide, said industrial offshore fish farms have caused well-documented ecological and economic problems around the world.

“We should not confuse these corporate ventures with small-scale, nearshore aquaculture projects rooted in local communities and economies,” he said.

The full text of the bill is online at