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The History and Status of Organic Aquaculture in the USA

by George Lockwood


Shrimp News: In the early 1970s, when I was first getting interested in aquaculture, I put a small advertisement in a magazine (I think it was Aquaculture Magazine, which has made a strong recovery recently), requesting information on investing in fish and shellfish farming in the United States.  George Lockwood was one of the people who responded to my ad.  He founded Monterey Abalone Farms in 1972, which eventually became Ocean Farms of Hawaii.  It produced abalone, salmon, sea urchins and oysters in a novel system using deep ocean water pumped into onshore tanks and ponds.  Later he sold that farm to Japanese investors.


George is a graduate of Northwestern University with a MBA from Harvard University.  He was president of the World Aquaculture Society (1982/1983), a founder and former president of the California Aquaculture Association and a major contributor to the National Aquaculture Act of 1980 and the California Aquaculture Act of 1982.  Since 2005, he has served as Chair of the Aquaculture Working Group (AWG) that is advising the USDA on the development of organic aquaculture standards.


In February 2017, his book AQUACULTURE: Will It Rise to Its Potential to Feed the World? was published.  Through this book, George seeks to make USA aquaculture a robust industry that substantially contributes to our national economy while producing the most environmentally sustainable and the healthiest forms of meat protein.  For a review of the book, Click Here, to order it from, Click Here.


Although I never invested in abalone farming, I felt that George was a great spokesman for aquaculture, and he’s one of the reasons that I’ve pursued aquaculture for the last forty years.  We always get together for lunch at World Aquaculture Society meetings.


When I recently posted a long discussion about organic shrimp farming to my webpage, I sent a link to the discussion to George.  Here’s his response to that discussion along with a copy of a letter he sent to the Honorable Sonny Perdue, United States Secretary of Agriculture.



The History and Status of Organic Aquaculture in the USA


The Organic Food Production Act of 1990 (OFPA) set the statutory criteria for organic production in the USA.  It established the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB, referred to as “The Board” below ) to advise the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) on the establishment of rules and procedures for adding organic standards to the USA Code of Federal Regulations.


NOP and The Board were established In the early 1990s.  In 1999, The Board was finishing its work in proposing regulations for livestock and other areas of terrestrial agriculture, including farmed fish and shellfish.  Unfortunately, those regulations had nothing to do with the reality of growing fish and shellfish on commercial farms.  In 1999, I requested that The Board not proceed, so that the aquaculture community could work with the organic community to propose regulations that met the requirements of OFPA and established organic practices.  The Board agreed and withdrew its unworkable organic aquaculture proposals.


In 2005, after several feasibility studies, The Board, involving some of us from the production side of aquaculture, the USA Secretary of Agriculture appointed a 12 member Aquaculture Working Group (AWG) to advise The Board and NOP on appropriate standards.  This was done under federal government procedures and published in the Federal Register.


I was appointed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to be the chair.  Our AWG membership includes Sebastian Belle, Ron Hardy, John Hargreaves, Ralph Elston, Albert Tacon and others.  Over the next five years, we worked together and with The Board and NOP and had various opportunities for comments from the public, both oral and at Board meetings and online.  There were many, many objections to whatever we proposed, even to the concept of organic rules for aquaculture.  The big issues were salmon net pens and the use of fishmeal and oil from wild resources.  Finally, in 2010, after much deliberation, The Board made its final recommendations on appropriate standards for organic aquaculture to NOP and requested that the matter go into final rulemaking.  At the very end, in a closed session, The Board made some critical changes.  The AWG then wrote a comprehensive report on what needed to be improved or added to The Board’s recommendationsAWG published this report on the NOP website.It was written in “rule language” and included in a comprehensive draft rule for organic aquaculture.


The matter then rested on “hold” within the NOP for several years and after congressional objections to the USDA continued stalling, a group of professional staff members within the USDA were appointed to rewrite The Board’s recommendations to meet the requirement for federal rulemaking processes and to consider the recommendations of our AWG.  A major objector throughout this lengthy process was Food and Water Watch, a Washington, DC, non-government organization (NGO) that opposes aquaculture for environmental reasons.


Finally, in 2015, the USDA taskforce finished its work, and USDA Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS) submitted its proposed final rule to the Office of Management of Budget in the White House for its necessary approval.  That usually takes 90 days.  However, a new acting administrator for the Agriculture Marketing Service was appointed.  That agency supervises NOP and handles rulemaking activities.  The newly appointed acting administrator had previously worked in the management of the Food and Water Watch.  It became clear to me that she was opposed to organic aquaculture and brought a major negative bias into this process.  Some of us in the aquaculture community objected through our members in the House and Senate, and she apparently disengaged from the process.


At the end of 2016, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), NOP, the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA), the Office of Trade Representative and other interested federal government agencies hammered out a proposed final rule that was approved by OMB.  It was then sent back to USDA NOP for publishing in the Federal Register with a 90-day period for public comments.  However, at the end of 2016, the AMS administrator refused to publish it before the change in government, and he left office when Donald Trump became President.


Nothing has happened with the new administration and the proposed final rule for organic aquaculture is now on the AMS “hold” list.  However, for various reasons I believe it is reasonable to request the new Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, and the new acting administrator of the Agriculture Marketing Service, Bruce Summers, to review their regulatory “hold” list for moving items to their “active regulatory agenda”.  In my role as chair of the Aquaculture Working Group, I have written to the Secretary and the acting administrator of Agriculture Marketing Service requesting that NOP proceed to publish its proposed final rule for public comment.


Various members of the Senate and House have responded favorably to requests for support as well as National Fisheries Institute, National Aquaculture Association, other agencies within USDA, and the public.  A copy of my letter to the Secretary is attached (below).  He received it in late September 2017, and the new acting administrator of AMS got it at the same time.  We have since requested that publication not happen until the beginning of 2018, so participants of our workshop at Aquaculture America 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA (February 2018) will have time to comment.  The public comment period will last 90 days.


AWG does not know what the proposed final rule contains, and we will not know until it is published.  In the meantime, I urge all interested parties to write Secretary Perdue and Administrator Summers in support of the AWG request.  It would also be helpful if you contacted Members of Congress about our effortsIf the rule is then published, all interested parties are asked to plan to come to the Aquaculture America  2018 conference in February to help develop intelligent comments on how to make this rule the best possible rule under the OFPA statuary requirements.


Thanks to everyone who is interested in the organic production of fish and shellfish.  If you would like to learn more about this 18-year saga, Chapter 14 of my book AQUACULTURE: Will It Rise to Its Potential to Feed The World? has much more information.  My objective all along has been to have the valuable “USDA Organic” label available for USA fish and shellfish farmers so that premium prices and new demand will stimulate domestic production of aquaculture products.



George Lockwood’s Letter to The Honorable Sonny Perdue,
United States Secretary of Agriculture

(Final Rule for Organic Aquaculture)


Dear Mr. Secretary,


I write to you on behalf of the Aquaculture Working Group (AWG) of twelve fish and shellfish farmers and professionals in related fields.  We were appointed by USDA in 2005 to advise your National Organic Program (NOP) and National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) in the development of a final rule for the production of organic seafood under the Organic Food Production Act of 1990 (OFPA).  I am the appointed chair of the AWG.


We request that you act to allow your proposed final rule for organic aquaculture to go forward for public comment.  This rule has been carefully drafted by your staff at NOP and has been carefully reviewed and edited by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and other agencies.  It is ready and approved for publication.


All the necessary work on this proposed rule by NOP, OMB and other agencies was completed in late 2016.  However, just before the change in administration, it was removed by USDA/AMS from its active agenda and was not published for public comment.  It’s ready for publication without further review.


In 2005, starting with the appointment of our Aquaculture Working Group, the proposed final rule was carefully developed.  The Board submitted its final recommendations to NOP in early 2010 after five years of intense collaboration with AWG.  This included receiving many public comments, both written and oral, on various issues.  The Board worked diligently to propose standards that met the requirements of OFPA, the needs of the organic community and are workable by prospective framers.


The NOP staff then worked with USDA to produce a proposed final rule, and once submitted to OMB in August 2015, that office worked with AMS, the Office of Trade Representative, NOAA, the White House staff and other bodies to suitably amend the NOP proposal.  In late 2016, AWG completed the vetting of the NOP proposal, and OMB authorized us to proceed with the publication of the proposed final rule for public comment.  However, publication has yet to happen.  We have spent many years developing workable and needed standards.


The establishment of workable standards for the organic production of seafood is of critical national importance.  First, large amounts of foreign-produced salmon, shrimp and other shellfish that are certified under European Union, Canadian and other foreign standards are sold in USA markets.  In Scotland alone, reports say that 8,000 metric tons of organic salmon are being produced each year, with much of this to serve USA markets.  Until there are affirmative USDA organic standards under OFPA, we will continue to see foreign produced fish and shellfish selling in the USA market place under foreign organic labels.  USA producers should not have to compete with foreign products in the USA for want of the valuable USDA organic label.  American consumers want USDA certified organic farmed fish and shellfish.


Second, farmed fish and shellfish are the only food commodities that don’t have access to the valuable USDA Organic labelYet, USDA recommends that Americans eat at least two servings of seafood each week.  American consumers seek the assurances provide by the USDA Organic label.  Once available, substantial new demand will develop and American fish farmers will benefit from much new production with good prices.


There are other compelling reasons necessitating immediate action by the USA Government to move forward with final rulemaking for organic aquaculture.  We respectfully request that USDA place organic aquaculture on your active regulatory agenda with the publication of the proposed final rule without further delay.  I would be glad to discuss this matter with you.

Yours sincerely, George S. Lockwood


Information: George S. Lockwood, P.O. Box 345, Carmel Valley, California 93924, USA (Email, Phone 1-831-601-6761).


Source: Email to Shrimp News International from George Lockwood.  Subject: Status of Organic Aquaculture in the US (with a letter to The Honorable Sonny Perdue, USA Secretary of Agriculture, September 27, 2017).  October 16, 2017.


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