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Studies in domestic seafood consumption reveal surprising trends, as the United States continues to increase its annual percentage of imported seafood at an exponential rate. For example, during the first seven months of 2006, U.S. catfish imports from Vietnam increased by seventy-one percent over the annual percentage calculated for 2005. Similarly, U.S. imports of Chinese tilapia increased from 57 million pounds in 2001 to 163.1 million pounds in 2006. The trend for mollusks followed a similar trajectory, with a thirty-five percent increase in mollusk imports, valued at an estimated $179 million, just during the first half of 2006. What these trends show is that there is a high demand for seafood, which is met primarily through foreign imports. This demand, however, could be met domestically by promoting the U.S. aquaculture industries. Although the import percentages and increased tonnage of farmed seafood products indicate that aquaculture is increasing on a global scale, wild fish stocks continue to decline. A scientific study from November 2006 predicts that global commercial fish stocks will collapse by the year 2048. In recent years, there has been a global initiative to slow the decline of commercial fish stocks through the designation of marine reserve systems and the adoption of ecosystem-based management approaches. Pressure on wild stock viability, however, could be alleviated in the United States not only through the continued support and promotion of state-based aquaculture industries, but also through the implementation of a national offshore aquaculture industry. Developing a centralized framework for an offshore aquaculture industry, and identifying the role of federal agencies and state regulatory bodies within this framework, are becoming imperative tasks in the United States. This is due not only to the predicted wild stock collapse, but also to the pressure to stay current with foreign nations that have already developed successful offshore industries. Generating public support for such a framework is tedious because many citizens possess a negative view of aquaculture. It is important, however, to realize the positive effects the industry has on the nation’s gross domestic product, as well as on the nation’s capabilities of becoming a global producer of sustainable seafood products. There are a variety of approaches that aim to facilitate the United States’ transition into farming the open ocean. Instead of adopting a radical approach, such as conferring exclusive property rights to farmers in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ), a combination of innovative management solutions, such as an ecosystem-based management approach and marine zoning, should be considered in developing a national offshore framework. The remaining sections of Part I of this Comment identify the challenges and conflicts that arise when considering a potential framework. Background information on the nation’s regulatory environment and examples of ecosystem-based management approaches are also included. Part II provides an analysis of the tentative provisions of the National Offshore Aquaculture Act of 2007, a recent attempt by Congress to develop a national offshore framework. Before adopting any of these tentative provisions, however, Congress should undertake an examination of successful state nearshore industries, and Part III of this Comment is devoted to an in-depth examination of the State of Maine’s nearshore aquaculture laws and regulations. Maine is one of a few states experimenting with an ecosystem-based management approach to managing marine resources, and is a national leader in aquaculture development, regulation, and innovation. Part IV provides a discussion on how Maine laws, regulations, and policies can provide a template for drafting revisions and additions to the National Offshore Aquaculture Act that ensure an efficient and streamlined framework for this new, risky, and innovative venture. Finally, Part V offers the conclusion that future enactment of a successful and sustainable offshore framework is attainable through these recommendations.



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