The final rule for the Fishery Management Plan was prepared by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council. It was published in the Federal Register and is set to take effect on February 12.
The final rule applies to aquaculture activities in the exclusive economic zone in the Gulf of Mexico.
It allows farmed fish producers to apply for a permit to operate an offshore aquaculture facility in certain areas. It also lets them raise and sell specific species. The permit is good for 10 years and can be renewed.
Species need to be from the area where the aquaculture facility is located and no genetically engineered or transgenic species can be raised at one of the sites. The goal is to have fish raised in a similar fashion to wild species in the region.
Groups including the American Soybean Association (ASA) and the Soy Aquaculture Alliance (SAA) have supported the new measures and members have said they’re excited to see how the process develops.
“We’ve been interested in it for a long time, but it’s been tough,” said Beverly Paul, Washington representative with the ASA. “We’ve tried to get a permit system into law and it never went anywhere.”
Previously, the need for multiple permits and uncertainty made it difficult for aquaculture facilities to develop in offshore areas of the US like the Gulf of Mexico, said Paul.
“We hope there will be investment in building fish farms and that this will be the first step," she said. Paul also hopes that other fishery management councils in the US will forward prospectus and that we can finally start to develop this industry in this country.”
Soybean meal in fish feed
Soybean producers have been involved with aquaculture around the world, especially in China, since about 1992, said Paul. The partnership has allowed for research into the development of soybean meal products to for use as fish feed.
That work has become more important as fishmeal has become more expensive, she said. Supplies of the product are finite.
“As fish meal and fish oil become less available, they’ve been very interested in trying to find a different form of fish protein,” she said. “That’s where soybean meal comes into play.”
Soymeal can be a sustainable way to supply the nutritional needs of fish and shrimp, added Bridget Owen, executive director of the SAA. “Collectively, the soybean farmers have seen that soy can be a really important nutritional component in today’s aqua feed.”
The feed ingredient offers digestible amino acids and can be used in the diets of many different types of fish and marine species, she told us.
Additionally, the SAA is continuing research into marine species that would be suitable to raise in the Gulf of Mexico and to improve the use of soymeal in those diets, said Owen. Because feed can be a large part of fish production, the goal is to provide feed ingredients that are sustainable, economic and offer good nutrition.