More than half the imported seafood here comes from fish farms, mostly in Asian countries, where there is little regulation of food safety. The rest, which is wild, is often from illegal sources. Rates of seafood fraud and deceptive mislabeling in the domestic marketplace are soaring to unprecedented levels.
Which government agency is at the forefront of combating this fraud? NOAA. Any funding for NOAA programs that help consumers reconnect to clean, healthy, sustainable seafood swimming off our shores is funding that we cannot afford to lose. The costs of managing our wild fisheries will not disappear with budget cuts; instead, the financial burden for programs like federal at-sea monitoring will continue to shift onto the shoulders of the last remaining American fishermen.
And it’s not just wild American seafood that risks disaster. Aquaculture, the fastest-growing food sector in the world and one of the most promising new industries in the United States, will be crippled by President Trump’s budget cuts. The United States already ranks 17th in world aquaculture production, behind Myanmar. Yes, sad! Without NOAA, things would be even sadder.
Most Americans probably think NOAA focuses on the weather. It does, but it does much more. NOAA gave birth to domestic shellfish farming in the 1930s and continues to fund innovations like seaweed and land-based salmon farming, which has in turn opened up new horizons for unemployed fishermen and their children. In Rhode Island alone, oyster growers raked in more than $4.3 million and have swelled their ranks by over 20 percent. And if revival of the blue-collar economy is the goal, according to the World Bank, building a network of seaweed farms covering a piece of ocean less than 5 percent of American waters could generate up to 50 million new jobs globally.
The president’s budget also zeros out Sea Grant programs, which provide education and technical assistance for aquaculture and other ocean-based industries. In the last two years these programs generated $575 million in economic impact and created or sustained over 20,000 jobs.
For those who work at sea, economic opportunity is inextricably tied to environmental protection. An Environmental Protection Agency initiative to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, now on the chopping block, has been the catalyst for more than 500 new ocean farms in the Chesapeake Bay in the last five years.
Last, for everyday Americans who need fish for good nutrition, particularly school-age children, endangering the supply of clean, traceable, healthy American seafood risks our very future. It is estimated by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization that pregnant women who eat eight to 12 ounces of seafood per week bear children with better brains and eyes, and I.Q. scores 5.8 points higher than the children of mothers who did not eat the recommended amount of seafood.
Cutting NOAA’s budget is a bad idea, both for parents who want their children to realize their full potential and for a president who wants to keep eating his favorite sandwich. And if all that fails to convince, consider this: NOAA tracks storms and wave heights, allowing thousands of fishermen to work safely. Without adequate funding, many could find themselves literally lost at sea.