Editor’s note: The following letter was written by Eliza Harrison, a Santa Barbara resident who is the program manager for Ocean Rainforest Inc., a Santa Barbara biotechnology company.
Seaweed cultivation is climate smart for America. Congress must act so we can grow more of it.
Mussels and oysters have dominated California aquaculture, but kelp cultivation or seaweed is actually the fastest growing aquaculture sector. The growth, however, of seaweed, is hindered by a complex, time consuming and costly regulatory process that needs to change.
Over the past five years, 95% of farmed seaweed, or $229 million in revenue, is grown in Asia and imported to the U.S. Additionally, fish production was enhanced by an average of 94 pounds per acre per year on seaweed and shellfish farms compared to other habitats. By some estimates, fish species were also found in concentrations 1.6 times higher on seaweed and shellfish farms.
Seaweed is also the most sustainable and environmentally responsible form of biomass. Its cultivation presents a transformative economic development opportunity for many U.S. coastal communities.
Ocean Rainforest Inc. secured a permit for a two-year demonstration project in the Santa Barbara Channel, and it came with navigating the application process – a costly, complex process mired in regulatory roadblocks.
With the proposed AQUAA Act, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration would be a lead agency for permitting offshore projects in federal waters. NOAA would take responsibility for siting offshore projects and coordinating with other regulatory agencies to ensure existing marine industries and habitats are minimally impacted.
NOAA’s designation as a lead agency would allow the industry to benefit from a central coordination of permit applications.
Offshore aquaculture must be implemented in a responsible and community-centered manner. Lawmakers should consider enabling modification and advancements in cultivation technology that would minimize spatial impacts, lower environmental risks and support economic development in coastal communities.
ORI supports the need for federal legislation for a potentially transformative means of developing an economically feasible, socially responsible and environmentally supportive industry to help the country transition to a more regenerative and climate-smart future.