Aquaculture Interests Get Renewed Push

There have been numerous small-scale ventures into aquaculture in the territory, including a program launched in 2012 at Eudora Kean High School to farm tilapia. An attack by vandals killed many fish in 2013, but not the program. (Source file photo courtesy Warrington Tyson Sr.)

Pretty much stalled for about a quarter of a century, the move toward developing large-scale aquaculture in the territory got a boost last week when the government announced it has a draft plan for regulating the industry.

The draft, it appears, was the plan-in-waiting. It appears to date from about the same time a law was passed to establish the Commission on Aquaculture and Mariculture in 2001. One section refers repeatedly to the Territorial Court; that court was renamed Superior Court in October 2004.

There was considerable interest in aquaculture and the related fields of aquaponics (raising plants and fish in a partnership system) and mariculture (a type of aquaculture specific to seawater) at the time the commission was created. The University of the Virgin Islands began offering a course in aquaponics and tilapia aquaculture in the late 1990s. By the early 2000s, a few other schools set up small fish-farming programs. But proposals for larger commercial ventures didn’t get any traction.

It’s unclear why efforts languished for decades, but Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. resurrected them, reconstituting the commission, which began meeting regularly last summer.

Its members are representatives of the Agriculture Department and of the Fish and Wildlife Division of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, a UVI professor, a marine biologist, a commercial fisher from St. Croix, and a teacher-turned-aquaculture developer.

DPNR is the lead agency. Agriculture is listed in the draft regulations as the co-signatory on all licenses issued for aquaculture operations.

Licenses must be renewed annually; the amount of the fee is not spelled out in the draft, but monies collected are to go into the Natural Resources Reclamation Fund.

Other license requirements spelled out in the draft regulations include:

  • Inspection of the facility
  • Submission of a disaster plan and of a pollutant discharge elimination system
  • Maintenance of a detailed record of operations and sales for at least 12 months, to be open for inspection by DPNR

No endangered or threatened species or “nuisance” species as listed on the USVI Invasive Species Action Plan may be cultivated. Only species designated by DPNR may be raised.

Operators are forbidden to hold or transport wild specimens along with farmed specimens, and they must notify DPNR in the case of damage to the facility, an unintended release of any organism, or the discovery of disease affecting marine life.

In addition to the V.I. regulations, all aquaculture enterprises must meet all governing federal standards, including those of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Bureau.

Under the draft regulations, DPNR, in cooperation with other government entities, will identify and designate government lands and waters that are suitable for aquaculture development.

The department will have jurisdiction over all inland bodies of freshwater, estuarine waters, and territorial waters extending out three miles from the shoreline or less if an international boundary is closer than three miles out.

DPNR is accepting comments on the proposed regulations up until Feb. 29, 2024, and it announced last week that it will hold a hearing via GoToMeeting at 4 p.m. Feb. 12.

“DPNR will consider any comments made by the public,” according to its press release, and it will file the rules “with the appropriate government agency” within 15 days of the end of the comment period, which would be March 15, 2024.

Unfortunately, the link that DPNR provide to the draft is not currently functioning. The site has been down since last week. The department offered apologies for the inconvenience. “We are working on getting it restored,” said DPNR spokesman Jamal Nielsen, but there was no word on how soon that might happen.