Americans have a chance to help shape the way aquaculture projects take shape as federal agencies move toward growing the industry across the nation.

Last week the Department of Commerce and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released draft national aquaculture policies that aim to “increase the U.S. supply of healthy seafood, create jobs in coastal and other communities, spur innovation in technology, and help restore depleted species and marine habitats.” Algae farming is included in the policies. The policies are based in part on input from listening sessions held around the U.S. last year, including in Alaska.

Let’s put aquaculture in context, advised Larry Robinson, NOAA assistant secretary of commerce, at a media teleconference from Washington, D.C.

Aquaculture has overtaken wild fisheries as the main source of seafood, 84 percent of the seafood Americans eat is imported, and about half of that is farmed, he said.

“Domestic aquaculture produces just 5 percent of the seafood we consume, and we need to do better,” Robinson said. “A robust U.S. aquaculture industry based on sustainable practices would significantly increase America’s food security.

“After crude oil and natural gas, fish and shellfish are the greatest natural resource contributors to the national trade deficit,” Robinson pointed out, calling that “an amazing fact.”

“A more robust industry would allow us to reduce our trade deficit of about $9 billion annually.”

“NOAA is working hard to rebuild depressed fish stocks, but that will not close the trade gap,” said Eric Schwaab, assistant administrator in charge of NOAA’s Fisheries Service. “In addition to increased production of wild stocks, NOAA’s vision is to develop robust aquaculture endeavors that complement wild caught fisheries.”

Marine spatial planning, or “ocean zoning,” is mentioned as part of the president’s national ocean policy. How will that come into play in the new aquaculture policies?

“It’s about identifying the multiple uses and trying to come up with a compatible scheme that is complementary to all uses,” Schwaab said.

“It’s less apparent in Alaska than other places, but in a number of our coastal areas it is getting crowded out there,” he said. “Rather than simply allow uses to unfold unilaterally with no consideration to their relationship to each other, we feel that it is incumbent upon coastal management authorities, governors, tribes and federal agencies to think about how these uses might interact spatially. Then we can ensure we are doing a good job at not only creating new opportunities, like aquaculture, but protecting long standing traditional uses like commercial and recreational fishing.

“The idea that a process unfolds where all the people who have a shared interest in coastal areas and on the ocean surface might sit down and talk about how they fit together or not, is not only a good thing but it is urgently needed in a lot of places.”

The agencies aim to have final aquaculture policies completed by year’s end. Once in place, they will outline how NOAA plans to fund research, work with partners to create job initiatives that grow the industry, and grant access to favorable sites for aquaculture facilities.

Commerce and NOAA are accepting comments on the draft policies through April 11. Comment at http://aquaculture.noaa.gov. Read the draft aquaculture policies at www.nmfs.noaa.gov/aquaculture/policy2/.

Kodiak comes out for science

It is not widely known that Kodiak is home to some of the nation’s top-notch marine scientists and research facilities.

“Kodiak has been a center of research for years, and nobody knows it,” said Scott Smiley, a seafood scientist and professor at Kodiak’s Fishery Industrial Technology Center, a part of the state university. Right next door is the NOAA Fisheries Research Center; downtown are the Alaska Department of Fish and Game labs.

All contain decades of marine research and experience that local scientists will share with the community at a science symposium in April.

The gathering aims to get scientists and fishermen together to discuss cooperative research ideas, where there are data gaps and other needed projects.

“What has not been looked at that we as a fishing community think is important for sustainable fisheries management and research?” asked Kate Wynn, a marine mammal expert who is organizing the event.

“Everything in the ocean is connected and we want to show the community how what we do in our labs directly affects their lives,” Wynn said.

The roster of symposium topics filled up fast, and ranges from fish diets to tagging programs, ocean acidification, using fish heads, ghost fishing effects on crabs and historical studies.

“A 1987 study on sea otters and their relationship with PSP showed that apparently, sea otters can tell whether a clam has PSP without eating it,” said Smiley. “Now that’s slick! And no one knows about it.”

The Kodiak Marine Science Symposium runs April 9-12. Get more info at seagrant.uaf.edu/conferences/2011/kamss/info.php, or contact Kate Wynne, kate.wynne@alaska.edu.

Share the love!

Lovers choose lobster as the top Valentine’s Day dish to share with that special someone. Crab legs and shrimp also get the nod as romantic meals on one of the busiest dining out days for U.S. restaurants.

In a national survey by Harris Interactive, chefs called lobster an “exotic delicacy that results in an intimate moment because it is hand-held and shareable.” They called all shellfish “a catalyst for connection like no other food.”

The links between food and love have a long history, including the belief that oysters enhance male desire and performance. Until recently there was no scientific evidence to back that up. New studies by Miami and Italian researchers have revealed that oysters contain compounds that prompt the release of sexual hormones. And the scent of oysters resembles the most potent female pheromone. Oysters also are loaded with zinc, a key nutrient for testosterone production for both men and women.

Women authors are touting omega-3 fish oils as serious libido lifters. In her book “Can You Eat Your Way to Better Sex?” Dr. Yvonne Fulbright told FOX News that fish oil raises levels of compounds that control “feel good” levels in the brain, and stimulate the release of sex hormones.

Author Marrena Lindberg also sings the praises of fish oil in “The Orgasmic Diet.” She says that fish oil, like Viagra, increases nitric oxide levels in artery linings, which increases blood flow to the brain and sex organs.

Seafoods from colder waters contain the most omega-3s. Pacific oysters pack a special punch at 1,700 micrograms of omega-3s, the same as Alaska king salmon.

The Alaska seafood with the most omega-3s of all? Sablefish.

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