Report Recommends Improvements to Army Corps Permitting of Offshore Aquaculture

June 2015

(Washington)  Offshore aquaculture is an emerging new use of the ocean. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plays a central, but underappreciated, role in regulating this new industry. The Environmental Law Institute has released a white paper, “U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Regulation of Offshore Aquaculture,” clarifying the role, legal authority, and practice of the Corps in this area.

Most offshore aquaculture facilities require a permit from the Corps under Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act—and in some cases, this permit is the only one required under federal law. Illustrated through case studies of three offshore aquaculture projects that have recently received permits, the white paper shows how Corps permitting works, in law and practice, and it identifies key actions to ensure that Corps permits effectively address environmental impacts in a consistent and timely manner.

“Our new study shows that while the Corps often plays a lead role in permitting, others have critical knowledge on competing ocean uses and potential environmental impacts,” said Read Porter, ELI Senior Attorney. “Interagency consultation therefore is critical to ensure that the Corps considers and addresses potential impacts.” The white paper identifies the following opportunities to improve Corps permitting under existing law, which are also summarized in the associated fact sheet:

  • The Corps can best protect the public interest by ensuring that offshore aquaculture activities are regulated in a manner consistent with nearshore aquaculture facilities.
  • The Corps can improve offshore aquaculture permitting by issuing guidance for Districts on offshore permit considerations and consultations.
  • Legislative or regulatory action is required to ensure that floating, unmoored aquaculture facilities on the Outer Continental Shelf do not become a hazard to navigation.
  • The Corps can protect the public interest by ensuring that all permits and associated data are made publicly available in a database.
  • The Corps can support effective permitting by supporting and participating in multi-stakeholder development of a tool for offshore aquaculture site selection and facility design.

 “U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Regulation of Offshore Aquacultureis the latest in a series assessing and identifying needed improvements to current offshore aquaculture law and practice, founded on a belief that sustainable development of offshore aquaculture requires both nuanced understanding and effective implementation of current laws.

 Through this and other reports, ELI fills voids in collective understanding and informs the most critical environmental decisions of the day. To ensure a better-in­formed dialogue through common sources of good information, ELI also makes collections of hard-to-find resources accessible to everyone involved in finding solutions to significant environmental challenges.

 For more information see our website at

R&P Programs and Projects