Regulation

The extent to which governments regulate aquaculture varies greatly from one nation to another. In some parts of the world, particularly in developing nations, there has historically been little or no regulation. Inexpensive land and labor, low taxes, excellent climates, and a lack of government interference have drawn many aquaculturists to underdeveloped countries, most of which are in the tropics. Unregulated expansion of aquaculture in some countries has led to pollution problems and destruction of valuable habitats such as mangrove swamps and has enhanced the spread of disease from one farm to another. The need for imposing more restrictive regulations is now becoming evident around the world. Response to that need varies considerably from one nation to another.

Environmental problems associated with aquaculture have become a global phenomenon. In Japan, previously unrestricted development of net-pen culture of various kinds of marine fish in bays led to what was termed self-pollution. The waste feed and excretory products from the fish degraded water quality to the point that the aquacul-tured fish were unable to grow adequately or, in some cases, were unable to survive. Strict controls on the num ber of net-pens that could be established within each bay were established and the problem was adequately addressed. Similarly, strict regulations on aquaculture have been imposed throughout Europe in an attempt to prevent environmental deterioration. Inland aquaculture ventures on private lands have come under much less scrutiny and governmental control than those established in coastal regions in or adjacent to public waters.

The United States is an example of a mixture of local, state, and federal regulations. Permits from a county, state, or federal agency may be required for drilling wells, pumping water, releasing water, employing exotic species, constructing facilities, and so on. In the United States, most permits can be obtained at the local or state level. In some instances the federal government has devolved permitting authority to the states when state regulations are as rigorous or more so than national regulations. Federal agencies become involved when aquaculture projects are conducted in navigable waters (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) or might impact threatened or endangered species (National Biological Service). For aquaculture ventures established in the marine environment outside of state waters, only federal permits are required. Once again, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit will be required. With its mandate to regulate the nation's fisheries, the National Marine Fisheries Service will also become involved in the aquaculture permitting process in federal waters. Interest in establishing aquaculture operations in conjunction with operating or out-of-production oil and gas platforms has developed in recent years. For such a platform to be used for aquaculture, a permit from the Minerals Management Service will be required. During the period when the various permit applications are being reviewed, public hearings may be held and various other federal agencies may be provided with the opportunity to comment. The process can be long, arduous, and expensive whether in state or federal waters. It is not uncommon for the prospective aquaculturist to have to deal with more than a dozen agencies when seeking state permits.

In general, it is easier to establish an aquaculture facility on private land than in public waters such as a lake or coastal embayment. Prospective aquaculturists who want to establish facilities in public waters may be confronted at public hearings by outraged citizens who do not want to see an aquaculture facility in what they consider to be their water. The issue is highly contentious in some nations (eg, the United States). In other countries (eg, Japan), when properly conducted, aquaculture in public waters not only is seen as a good use of natural resources, but also can be considered an amenity.

Obtaining permits is often not simple. Few states have one office that can accommodate the prospective aquaculturist. In most cases it is necessary to contact a number of state agencies to apply for permits. As mentioned, public hearings may be required before permits are approved. The process can take months or even years to complete. The costs involved in going through the process may be prodigious. After the expenditure of considerable amounts of time and money, there is no guarantee that the permits will ultimately be granted.

Most states in the United States now have an aquaculture coordinator, usually housed in the state department of agriculture, who can assist prospective aquaculturists in finding a path through the permitting process. In other countries the process can vary from highly complicated to virtually unregulated. Anyone considering development of an aquaculture facility should become educated on the permitting process of the state or nation in which the facility will be developed. In cases where the process is involved, it should be initiated well in advance of the anticipated time of actual facility construction and, if possible, before land acquisition is completed.

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