Seeking input on Aquaculture Opportunity Area designations

oyster farm buoys in a cove
An oyster farm in Prince William Sound.
Photo by Dave Partee/Alaska Sea Grant.

Alaska Sea Grant and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are inviting Alaska stakeholders to provide input regarding a federal Aquaculture Opportunity Area (AOA) designation program that has the potential to streamline aquaculture development in Alaska.

The process, being implemented by the NOAA Aquaculture Program, will identify the regions that will be included in this federal effort. Stakeholder input is important for making these determinations, and Alaska Sea Grant has prepared a brief survey to collect informal input to share with the Alaska Mariculture Task Force to help inform their comments about potential AOAs. Letters of support from many stakeholders will be needed for any AOA designation, so the survey also asks if you plan to submit a letter on behalf of your general region or area in Alaska.

What are Aquaculture Opportunity Areas?

In May of 2020, the President signed Executive Order 13921 on Promoting American Seafood Competitiveness and Economic Growth. The order directs the Secretary of Commerce to identify ten geographic regions nationwide that are suitable for commercial aquaculture study and analysis. Once geographic areas are selected, NOAA will use a combination of spatial mapping, scientific review, and additional public engagement to identify specific sites within the geographic regions for designation as “Aquaculture Opportunity Areas.” AOAs are those specific sites within the region found to be the most environmentally, socially, and economically appropriate for commercial aquaculture.

The AOA selection process

Selection of geographic areas for investigation will be driven largely by public input. The areas can be state waters, federal waters, or both, and could support multiple aquaculture farm sites of varying types. Alaska law prohibits finfish farming within three miles of shore, so AOAs in state waters would apply to operations for seaweed, shellfish, and other non-finfish species.

NOAA has selected two areas to date, in southern California and the Gulf of Mexico, now being advanced to the process for selecting specific AOA locations, based upon the best-available scientific information and public engagement. As part of the public process, NOAA is gauging support and interest for new geographic regions to select for AOA study. This is an essential opportunity for Alaskans, Alaska businesses, communities, leaders, and representatives to weigh in on the general suitability of Alaska for potential aquaculture development.

NOAA Fisheries is currently inviting public comment on two aspects of AOAs during a 60-day public comment period. The deadline for formal comments is December 22, 2020.

Additional information on NOAA’s AOA designation process can be found here:

Provide your views

Please fill out this short AOA survey from Alaska Sea Grant to provide us with information to share with the Alaska Mariculture Task Force as they craft their comments about potential AOAs in Alaska for the December 22nd comment deadline. Comments received by 5 pm, December 14, will be shared with the Task Force. The information stakeholders provide in the Alaska Sea Grant survey will not be submitted as formal comments to NOAA. Separate from our survey to inform the Alaska Mariculture Task Force, you can submit your formal comment online to NOAA by December 22.