The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating for U.S. farmers and the agriculture industry, but the pandemic is only the latest challenge for an industry that has suffered from many misfortunes in recent years, including severe weather and trade wars. A Presidential Executive Order on seafood announced this month is one way to help revitalize rural America through the expansion of domestic aquaculture, a safe and resource-efficient process for cultivating farm-raised fish in our oceans. The expansion of aquaculture in the U.S. will lead to increased demand for American-grown crops, which can be used in plant-based fish feed, such as soybeans, corn and peas, creating new job opportunities for America’s terrestrial farmers, the backbone of our nation and economy.

The President’s May 7, 2020 Executive Order on Promoting American Seafood Competitiveness and Economic Growth, includes support for the expansion of regulated domestic offshore aquaculture. The expansion of aquaculture would stimulate economic growth for both the aquaculture and agricultural industries, creating thousands of jobs in coastal and agricultural communities – two communities hurt deeply by the effects of COVID-19. 

Aquaculture is the fastest-growing food sector in the world, but the U.S. ranks only 16th in production of farm-raised seafood. With global demand for seafood anticipated to rise 70% by 2050, the domestic aquaculture industry has tremendous growth potential and anticipated economic benefits.

The expansion of domestic aquaculture is a real opportunity for rural America. Because of the reliability of American farmers and the exceptional quality of their products, there will be strong demand for products, such as U.S. soybeans, corn and peas, which can be used to create plant-based fish feed. Aquaculture would create a new, predictable, domestic market for these crops at a time when foreign markets are increasingly uncertain. That is why our coalition, Stronger America Through Seafood (SATS), has been advocating for federal policies that support the expansion of American aquaculture and the opportunities ahead for U.S. industries. 

The U.S. has the potential to be one of the top countries for aquaculture production. We already have the resources necessary with our long coastline, expansive EEZ, skilled labor force, superior technology, ample feed sources, and growing seafood market. What we need now are the proper policies and regulations in place to facilitate the expansion of regulated offshore aquaculture. 

Growth of the domestic offshore aquaculture industry has been stalled because of the lack of a clear regulatory process for permitting offshore aquaculture operations in the United States. Stakeholders, including the U.S. seafood industry, scientists and oceans policy experts have been working to address this hurdle for decades. The President’s Executive Order is a major milestone and an important step forward in exploring the U.S. offshore for aquaculture development. Now, the next step is for Congress to authorize a clear permitting process for aquaculture operations through the passage of federal legislation.

At a time when economic stimulus is needed most, an emerging industry like aquaculture can provide American communities with new opportunities to help support struggling industries and get Americans back to work. This is an opportunity that lawmakers should act on quickly. There is already bipartisan support in Congress for the expansion of aquaculture. With growing momentum and interest resulting from the Executive Order, there is no better time for Congress to act. America’s coastal and agricultural communities both stand to benefit from the expansion and growth of domestic aquaculture. But, until legislation is passed, the U.S. will continue to miss out the economic opportunities ahead. The time for congressional action is now.

The author is Bill DiMento, Vice President of Corporate Sustainability and Government Affairs at High Liner Foods and President of Stronger America Through Seafood (SATS)which advocates for policies and regulations that help secure a stronger America through increased U.S. production of healthful, sustainable, and affordable seafood.