FL Commissioner Nikki Fried Issues Statement to Congress on Aquaculture

Tallahassee, Fla. – Agriculture Commissioner Nicole “Nikki” Fried submitted testimony to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, in advance of the committee’s hearing on sustainable offshore aquaculture.

In Florida, aquaculture is a $77 million industry, with over 700 aquaculture leases covering 2,700 submerged acres; the industry produces over 1,500 varieties of fish, plants, crustaceans, mollusks, corals, reptiles, and other marine products for food and non-food markets. Florida is one of the nation’s top states for fresh seafood production, supporting 14,000 jobs. Florida also ranks 4th in the nation for shellfish production, with more than ten certified shellfish processing facilities in the state.

Commissioner Fried’s testimony can be read in full below, and was also shared on Twitter.

Statement of the Honorable Nicole “Nikki” Fried
U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
Hearing: Feeding America: Making Sustainable Offshore Aquaculture a Reality
October 16, 2019

Chairman Wicker, Ranking Member Cantwell, and members of the Committee, thank you for convening this important hearing to discuss sustainable offshore aquaculture and the need for streamlined federal regulations to support this developing industry and ultimately, our nation’s food security.

Agriculture is Florida’s second largest industry, with an economic impact of $132 billion in our state. Our 47,000 farms support two million workers and export $4 billion in commodities to 164 nations – feeding our neighbors, our communities, and the world. Aquaculture is Florida’s most diverse agribusiness with over 1,000 aquaculturists producing the greatest variety of aquatic species in the nation, with an estimated 1,500 species or varieties of food and aquarium fish, shellfish, aquatic plants, mollusks, crustaceans, and reptiles grown in the state.

In addition to the growth of this industry in Florida, aquaculture around the globe continues to increase in scale and diversity in order to meet our growing population’s need for safe, affordable, and healthy protein. While the offshore food fish sector remains only a small fraction of all aquaculture production in the U.S., the nation’s seafood trade deficit continues to grow. The production of domestic aquaculture products is critical for the nation’s food security and economy. 

While offshore aquaculture has been critiqued for environmental impacts in past decades, significant technological and scientific innovations have made it possible for these farms to operate with minimal risk to the environment. Advances in fish husbandry, feed composition and genetics, along with drastically improved cage engineering, have now sufficiently addressed the negative perceptions of offshore aquaculture that have prohibited development of the nation’s industry in the past. Through proper facility siting and the application of modern, responsible production methods, the U.S. can become a model for sustainable aquaculture production and promote the development of a responsible offshore aquaculture industry that will prove itself as a reliable source of domestic protein and as a good steward of the marine environment. 

However, for offshore aquaculture to develop, a clearly outlined federal permitting process and framework is necessary. For years, aquaculture companies have sought to bring farms and jobs to the U.S., but are unable to persist through the duplicative, overly complicated, and costly permitting process. Commercial companies have reported spending nearly five years and $1 million preparing for and completing applications without ever being granted a permit and have ultimately developed in other nations.

The offshore aquaculture industry will continue to grow around the world in the coming decades – the only question is, will the U.S. have a role in this burgeoning, sustainable seafood industry? The U.S. and particularly Florida are uniquely positioned to provide a streamlined and environmentally-sustainable regulatory climate for offshore aquaculture, but not until federal permitting barriers are addressed.  

In my capacity as Florida’s 12th Commissioner of Agriculture, where our Department assists in the development of aquaculture and regulates aquafarms through our Division of Aquaculture, I bring these issues before you today. As Florida’s aquaculture industry continues to grow, so does the need for streamlined federal policies for offshore aquaculture to thrive. Today’s hearing is an important step, helping shine a light on this developing industry and the critical role federal policies play in either hindering or encouraging its continued growth.

I hope that this Committee, the Congress, and our federal agencies will work together to enact common-sense policies to advance sustainable offshore aquaculture to the benefit of American farmers, the jobs they support, and the families they feed. As Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture, our Department and Division of Aquaculture stand ready to assist in this effort.

Thank you,
Nicole “Nikki” Fried
Florida Commissioner of Agriculture