On Jan. 13, the National Marine Fisheries Service issued final regulations to implement the Fishery Management Plan for Regulating Offshore Aquaculture in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council released the plan in 2009, and these new regulations establish the permitting process for offshore aquaculture operations.
The new rule authorizes the National Marine Fisheries Service to issue permits to grow species native to the Gulf of Mexico, including red drum, cobia and almaco jack.
Permits can only be issued for activities in federal waters in the Gulf for an initial period of 10 years. Federal waters begin 3 nautical miles off Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama and 9 nautical miles off Texas and the west coast of Florida. Aquaculture operations are prohibited in certain areas, including marine protected areas and permitted artificial reef areas.
The initial permit application fee is $10,000, and an additional $1,000 fee will be assessed annually. Permits may be renewed in 5-year increments. Additional permits are required from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers pursuant to other federal laws, such as the Clean Water Act and the Rivers and Harbors Act.
There are currently no commercial finfish aquaculture operations in federal waters. Last year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued permits for three offshore mussel farms – two off the coast of Massachusetts and one off California.
Individuals seeking permits for finfish aquaculture operations under these new rules will be entering uncharted waters.
For more information about the new regulations or to contact the Regional Aquaculture Coordinator for the Gulf of Mexico, click this link.