The Obama administration is laying the groundwork for permitting fish farming in federal waters in the Pacific Islands for the first time, part of its plan to double aquaculture production in the U.S. by 2020. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — in partnership with the regional fishery council that manages fish stocks in Hawaii, the Marianas and other islands — intends to conduct an environmental impact study to evaluate where farms should be located. The deadline to comment is today.

While salmon and shellfish have been farmed in state waters for decades, NOAA wants to expand aquaculture further from shore, in order to meet growing demand for seafood as the amount of wild-caught fish has flatlined. The U.S. imports more than 90 percent of what is eaten here, half of which is farmed — a practice that’s resulted in a trade deficit of $11.2 billion. Aquaculture is practiced widely in countries like Norway and China, but has been slow to catch on in the U.S. because of concerns about ocean ecosystems and coastal economies. It took NOAA about 14 years to finalize a framework for the Gulf of Mexico, and when the rule was finally completed in January, the agency was sued by a dozen environmental advocacy and commercial fishing groups.

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