March 15, 2023

In Memoriam - Bille Hougart, 1942 - 2022

Bille Hougart, former Aquaculture Coordinator at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and principal architect of the National Aquaculture Act of 1980, has passed away. He was born in Copenhagen, Denmark and came to the U.S. with his family when he was 12. He grew up in Northern Virginia and earned degrees in political science and biology from The American University in Washington, DC and did his graduate work in wildlife biology at the University of Maryland. Bille was a U.S. Air Force veteran, working in radar air traffic control.

He began his career working on Capitol Hill for Congressman Charles Teague of California, and from there went to work for the National Cotton Council. In the mid-1970s, he was a staff scientist for the National Research Council, part of the National Academy of Sciences. During this time, he worked on the report Aquaculture in the United States: Constraints and Opportunities that recommended that the USDA be the lead agency in the federal government for aquaculture. He then became a Policy Analyst on the President’s Reorganization Committee, working on government programs in Agriculture, Food and Nutrition and Natural Resources, including fisheries and aquaculture, at the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

By 1978, he moved from OMB to USDA to become Aquaculture Coordinator in the Office of the Secretary. He became Chair of the federal agency-wide Joint Subcommittee on Aquaculture (JSA) to coordinate and plan aquaculture activities between and among many agencies. For many years he was Assistant Director of the Science and Education Administration at the USDA, overseeing large federal research programs, including the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the Cooperative State Research Service, the Extension Service and the National Agricultural Library.

In the late 1970s, Bille organized a group of private sector aquaculture entrepreneurs who were raising fish and shellfish commercially to meet periodically and advise him on their perceptions of what government must do for a robust domestic industry to develop in the U.S. Bille was a keen listener and an unquestionably strong supporter for developing a viable private sector aquaculture industry in the U.S. This group worked closely with members of Congress and their committees in the development and passage of the first National Aquaculture Act, which became law in 1980, and that addressed many of the matters identified in those periodic meetings.

For the first time, the National Aquaculture Act of 1980 declared a national policy for aquaculture that forced federal agencies to recognize and begin to be more accommodating to aquaculture issues across agencies. It called for the establishment and implementation of a national aquaculture development plan that was later completed. It established an information service that became the National Aquaculture Information Center at the USDA National Agricultural Library. It established by law the federal interagency coordinating group to operate as the JSA (today the Subcommittee on Aquaculture) that was previously established in 1978 under the Federal Council by Executive Order. These inclusions established the framework for USDA to expand its role in aquaculture over the years and provide new programs and services to support US aquaculture development that persist to this day. Bille also worked during this period to create the Regional Aquaculture Center program, which was authorized in the Farm Bills of 1981 and 1985.

While at USDA, Bille put the United States aquaculture industry on the map through permanent legislation, innovative research partnerships, and public/private partnerships that were very controversial at the time. The United States aquaculture industry has Bille to thank for developing an innovative framework that serves as the basis of much of its impressive success today. He provided a good foundation for the development of aquaculture in the United States and was a true pioneer.

Prior to his retirement he was Director of Congressional and Federal Relations at the Oceanic Institute of Hawaii. He also worked briefly for the Environmental Protection Agency.

Bille’s retirement hobby was writing books about Mexican and Southwestern silver jewelry. His precision, kindness and sincere appreciation of beautiful art and jewelry won the respect of artists and collectors alike. He was the author of several books, articles and blogs in the field, and was able to finish and bring to press a fifth edition of Native American and Southwestern Silver Hallmarks before he passed away. The book is now commonly referred to as “the bible” for the seller or collector of Native American jewelry.

Editor’s Note: For more information about Bille’s role in and reflections on the passage of the National Aquaculture Act, see “The National Aquaculture Act of 1980 – From Pocket Veto to a 40-year Anniversary: Memories and Reflections” in the December 2019 issue of World Aquaculture.

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