Regulations to Support Sustainable Management

Fish Aquaculture @TNC

The coastal and ocean environment can often have a different property structure than land and is, in many countries, considered a public or common resource. In the absence of regulations, the marine environment can be subject to degradation from unsustainable human activities, such as overfishing or unsustainable aquaculture. Therefore, governments play a critical role in ensuring that aquaculture is managed in a way that minimizes impact and is developed in a way that benefits communities.

To reflect the rapid growth of aquaculture around the world and need for international guidance on how the aquaculture sector should be managed, in 1995 the United Nations released the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Code of Conduct of Responsible Fisheries, which has specific guidance for countries as they develop their aquaculture sector. Broadly, the FAO encourages countries to:

“Establish, maintain, and develop an appropriate legal and administrative framework that facilitates the development of responsible aquaculture” across four main areas to ensure:

  • environmental and ecosystem health
  • food safety and healthfulness of products produced by aquaculture
  • health of the cultured organisms
  • the sector is developed in a manner that benefits communities and society at large, and does not detrimentally affect other ocean users

Aquaculture is a complex sector to regulate, requiring expertise in many fields, including marine ecology, aquaculture/agriculture practices, fisheries management, effluent management and hydrology, veterinary practices, animal drugs, marine transportation, feed and food safety, and economics. As such, several management agencies with expertise in each of these areas typically play a role in regulating aquaculture. While there are many types of expertise needed to manage aquaculture effectively, the overall legal and regulatory framework should be comprehensive, coordinated, and efficient.

In many countries, development of aquaculture followed after development of other sectors like fisheries or agriculture. Thus, the primary regulatory authority for marine aquaculture is usually a marine fisheries agency or agricultural agency. Using the United States as an example, aquaculture is regulated by all of the following federal agencies:

Federal AgencyRole
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) - Center for Veterinary Medicine and Center for Food Safety and Applied NutritionEnsuring food safety and responsible animal drug use
Department of Agriculture (USDA)Animal health - Preventing, detecting, controlling or eradicating diseases of farmed animals; Animal feed standards
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)Ensuring water quality standards are met
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)Assessing impacts on marine mammals; Protection of endangered species, habitats, and wild fish stocks
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)Assessing hazards to navigation; Ensuring water quality standards are met
Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)Protecting endangered species; regulating wildlife trade in accordance with Federal, state, and local laws

In most countries, there are often several “layers” of government that play a role in the regulation of aquaculture including national (e.g., federal level), provincial/state governments, and local governments. National governments generally develop broader national-level environmental laws and policy, fisheries law, ensure navigational waters remain unimpeded, and control national aquatic animal health and food safety standards that aquaculture operations must adhere to.

Provincial/state and local governments may define in greater detail where and how aquaculture may be practiced within their jurisdiction. Permits may be issued by national, state/provincial, or local governments or at multiple levels. While land-based or nearshore coastal bivalve and seaweed farming may more often be regulated at provincial/state or local levels, it can be common for the regulatory aspects of cage aquaculture to fall within the authority of national governments.

Governments may or may not have aquaculture-specific laws and associated regulations, and often rely upon other laws that encompass a broader set of environmental, animal health, or food safety considerations. Some questions to ask when determining the regulatory framework for potential aquaculture projects:

  • What national and local bodies or groups regulate aquaculture?
  • Are there any laws, policies, or regulations that provide environmental guidance or requirements?
  • Are there laws, policies, or regulations that cover animal health and food safety?
  • What gaps are there in the existing legal-regulatory frameworks?

In the next two sections – Environmental Impact Assessments for aquaculture operations and Area Management Approaches and site selection – we will look at two critical management approaches that are frequently used around the world to help encourage the sustainable development of aquaculture.

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