The impacts of climate change on our nation’s food production, including fisheries, have been devastating -- jeopardizing wild fish populations and causing shortages of wild catch fish. As climate change increasingly threatens marine ecosystems, and land resources grow scarcer, we need to look to alternative food production methods to supply our communities with sustainable protein while conserving ocean resources. 

Aquaculture, or the raising of fish and other aquatic species, is an emerging global industry that can help ensure more Americans have access to local and affordable sustainable seafood. While aquaculture is a solution that is at our fingertips, it’s sadly one that the U.S. is not harnessing. 

Because aquaculture has proven to be one of the most sustainable methods for producing animal protein, it has become the fastest growing food production sector in the world. Over half of the seafood consumed globally is farm-raised and by 2030, farmed seafood is anticipated to make up nearly two-thirds of our total seafood consumption

However, the U.S. ranks only 17th in aquaculture production behind countries such as China, Indonesia, India, Vietnam, Bangladesh, South Korea, Egypt, Norway and Japan. The annual output of the American aquaculture industry, valued at $1.5 billion, is only 0.5% of the $281.5 billion global aquaculture market. As a result of the seafood deficit, the U.S. imports up to 80% of the seafood we consume, mainly from Asia and Europe.

Farming more seafood in America is an opportunity to meet growing demands for protein in a way. With the global population projected to reach 10 billion by 2050, increasing our production of sustainable protein by utilizing the latest research, science and technologies available to the industry, will be essential to meeting food security demands. We need to diversify and build resiliency into our food supply and reduce dependency on other methods of generating or importing animal protein. 

But aquaculture isn’t just a tool to help feed the world. Aquaculture can help lessen the impact on wild caught seafood, reducing the strain on already depleted wild stocks and supporting overall ocean conservation efforts.

At Merck Animal Health, we understand that aquaculture should be part of our future. By providing the biopharmaceutical and technology solutions that fish farmers rely on, we help aquaculture producers and conservationists cultivate and maintain healthy and sustainable aquatic ecosystems. From innovative vision technology that helps farmers monitor their fish in the water via smartphone or computer, to fish and shellfish handling equipment and data systems that make operations more efficient and sustainable, and the tagging of mollusks, including clams and mussels, to track when and where shellfish is harvested. All these innovations help improve production, support the welfare of animals, and limit environmental impacts. 

As a global leader, America can and should be producing its own seafood – especially when we have the resources and technology to do so. But the lack of a clear and predictable policy framework for permitting fish farming operations in federal waters off U.S. shores deters investment in the U.S. and hinders growth of an American industry. Federal legislation would correct this problem. 

Bipartisan legislation in Congress, The AQUAA Act (H.R.6258/S.3100), would establish National Standards for offshore aquaculture and clarify a regulatory system for the farming of fish in the U.S. exclusive economic zone (EEZ). By establishing a clear, accessible, and reliable permitting process, we will see more aquaculture operations here in the U.S. 

A May 2022 survey of likely voters found that 89% of recipients would have more favorable views towards a Member of Congress if he or she were to support increased access to offshore aquaculture for American businesses. The Echelon Insights poll, commissioned by Stronger America Through Seafood, also found that 86% of voters believe it’s important to expand U.S. aquaculture when learning that it’s a low impact means to feed a growing population. Further, 85% of Americans believe it’s important to expand U.S. production when learning that aquaculture is a sustainable industry that provides climate-friendly protein from the ocean.

We need more federal representatives to support an American aquaculture industry. By putting in place the proper regulatory system to support the farming of seafood in U.S. federal waters, Members of Congress would create a thriving offshore aquaculture industry to increase our supply of sustainable seafood. 

Heiden Bliss is associate director of sales for Merck Animal Health Aqua.

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