It may sound like an odd mix but aquaculture, invasive species and biofuels are all concerns of the National Sea Grant Law Center.

“We’re a federal/university partnership,” says Stephanie Showalter-Otts, president of the center, which is housed on the Ole Miss campus. “We’re part of the National Sea Grant College program, which is modeled after the land grants and administered by the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA). Universities receive money from NOAA to work with coastal communities to address various issues.”

First established in the 1970s, Sea Grant’s initial focus was “primarily to work with fishermen -- connecting university research to the fishing community. Since then, its mission has expanded to include the entire coastal community working on issues that can range from tourism, natural resource use, land use, and energy and economic development.”

The National Sea Grant Law Center was initiated in 2002 to provide non-biased legal research, education and services to the 32 Sea Grant programs around the country and their constituents. “We work to increase understanding and awareness of legal issues and help to reduce barriers to policy implementation.

“So, we’re very similar to the (University of Arkansas) National Ag Law Center but with a different emphasis.”

Among other comments by Showalter-Otts, who recently spoke at the inaugural Mid-South Agricultural and Environmental Law Conference in Tunica in mid-May:

Your work with aquaculture is the reason for the concern with the Lacey Act?

“That’s correct.

“Because we work with coastal communities we get a lot of questions about marine aquaculture. Right now, primarily, the focus is on shellfish aquaculture.

“It turns out there’s an overlap in some of the regulations and permitting with both marine and freshwater aquaculture. One of those overlaps is the Lacey Act.

“One important thing to keep in mind at the outset is there are two different provisions in the Lacey Act. Sometimes they’re talked about in the same way – but they’re very different.

“Title 16 of the Lacey Act was intended to help states enforce their wildlife laws. Title 16 makes it a federal offense to move species across state lines that have been taken, bought or sold in violation of state law. This would apply, for instance, in a situation where someone shot a deer out of season and then sold it to someone in another state.”

Title 18

On Title 18 of the Lacey Act…

“The one that is more of interest to aquaculture producers is Title 18 of the act. That prohibits the import into the United States and the interstate shipment of ‘injurious species.’ These are species designated by Congress of the Fish and Wildlife Service as harmful to human health, agriculture, or the environment.

“Most recently, the Fish and Wildlife Service listed several species of Asian carp as injurious. That includes the black carp, which had been cultured in many states and often sold across state lines for use as snail control in ponds.

“The current worry among some in the aquaculture community is that, by mistake, a carp species may be moved across state lines in, say, a catfish shipment. That could be a federal offense. While prosecutions for such a violation are unlikely, fines can be quite severe if charges were pursued.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Customs are responsible for enforcing the Lacey Act. The Department of Justice can bring both civil and criminal charges. Violations are considered Class B misdemeanor with maximum jail time of 6 months and maximum penalty of $5,000 for individuals.”

On invasive species…

“The reason we’ve gotten involved with invasive species is because of their environmental impact. Just look at what’s happened in the Great Lakes with zebra mussels. Those are now moving to the West. The mussels clog intake pipes at facilities like power plants. The control of them is very difficult and is an added operational expense.

“On the marine side, we’re starting to see problems with the impact of the lionfish. It’s expanding from Florida.

“Unfortunately, the Lacey Act, because of how long it takes to get an injurious species listed, isn’t a very effective tool for keeping invasive species from being introduced. State laws can be much more effective for that purpose.”

Biofuels

On biofuels…

“Recently the EPA finalized a regulation enabling several potential invasive plants to qualify for use as feedstocks for biofuels under the federal renewable fuels standards program. A main concern is arundo -– also known as ‘giant reed’ –- that was approved in July 2013.

“Arundo is listed as noxious weed or invasive species in Texas, Nevada, California and several other states. Mississippi also considers arundo as a potential threat.

“The EPA’s approval is potentially at odds with efforts of the USDA, which spends significant funds to try and control or eradicate arundo in California and other states. As USDA is working to get rid of it, the EPA has issued a rule that could encourage the planting of the same plant. To address concerns raised by scientists and others, the EPA adopted additional registration, record-keeping and reporting requirements for arundo producers. And they also must consult with the USDA before planting.

“But this remains an issue for states trying to figure out how to deal with the situation. In 2002, Mississippi passed legislation to create a permitting program for the planting of non-native species for fuel production. Now, any Mississippian wanting to plant such species has to first go to the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce to get a permit. There is no permitting fee, but there are bond requirements.”

Anything else?

“There are some policy challenges I believe will arise as we continue to experience climate variability. Species are moving, ranges are changing, because of warming temperatures or regions becoming drier.

“That has always happened, of course, but the way our invasive species are structured the focus is on non-natives. Native species like whitetail deer are normally managed for conservation. Under a new climate scenario, if a native species explodes and becomes a problem it will be harder for federal and state agencies to act to prevent environmental harm.

“In a warming future, which species will we have to address?”