Worried about the U.S. trade deficit? After crude oil and natural gas, the third largest contributor to the deficit is seafood—the U.S. imports some $9 billion worth each year. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) hopes to reduce that deficit by fostering the growth of aquaculture in U.S. waters. But in a draft policy  released today, NOAA says it wants to balance the economic vitality of the industry with protecting the environment. To do so, it's putting science at the top of its new priority list. By expanding NOAA research—now at about $10 million, but the agency requested a 50% boost for FY 2011—the agency would be able to do more ecological and technological analysis to improve and monitor the sustainability of aquaculture operations. Although the policy has a fairly detailed to-do list for NOAA researchers, it's vague on exactly how it plans to regulate the industry—just hinting, for example, that it will prefer "only native or naturalized species in federal waters" unless other species are proved to be safe to the ecosystem.
George Leonard of the Ocean Conservancy in Santa Cruz, California, called the policy a positive development, but said in a statement  that "because the policy is largely discretionary there is no guarantee that future fish farms will meet the suite of policy guidelines proposed today."
The policy is open for public comment until 11 April.