The Bush Administration has released a national offshore aquaculture bill that would allow fish farming up to 200 miles off the US coastline.

The legislation, which has been sent to Capitol Hill for Congressional action, would grant the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), an agency of the US Commerce Department, the authority to permit marine aquaculture facilities in open ocean.

The bill grants the Secretary of Commerce authority to issue permits for marine aquaculture operations in US federal waters, which cover about 3.4 million square miles from three to 200 miles off the coasts of the US.

"Today's action will create jobs and revenues for coastal communities and U.S. businesses by allowing for the expansion of an underutilised industry," said commerce secretary Carlos Gutierrez.

Currently, the US does not have a regulatory structure in place to allow aquaculture operations in federal marine waters. While other countries have continued to develop aquaculture, the US has fallen behind - resulting in a swelling seafood trade deficit as the US increasingly relies on the supply of imported, farmed seafood products to meet domestic market demand.

"Our goal is to develop a sustainable aquaculture program that balances the needs of fishermen, coastal residents and visitors, seafood consumers, the environment, and the aquaculture industry," said Conrad Lautenbacher Jr., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator.

The NOAA said that global seafood demand is projected to more than triple by 2025. Since wild-caught fisheries will not be able to meet future market demand, the increase in global seafood supply will most likely come from aquaculture. The US imports over 70% of the seafood that Americans eat, and at least 40% is farmed overseas.

Currently, the primary production of commercial aquaculture in the US is in freshwater species, such as catfish. Most commercial marine aquaculture in the US is currently shellfish - including oysters, clams and mussels.

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