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Offshore Aquaculture

Maximizing the Value of Offshore Aquaculture Development in the Context of Multiple Ocean Uses

Small-scale offshore bivalve aquaculture

Global seafood demand is increasing due to population growth and higher per capita seafood consumption. Wild capture fisheries alone cannot meet this growing demand, which means that aquaculture production is likely to increase significantly in coming years.  Aquaculture currently provides over 40% of global seafood production, and its share is projected to increase in the future (SOFIA 2014).

Locating aquaculture in the open  ocean—often referred to as offshore aquaculture—can mitigate many of the spatial and environmental impacts associated with more traditional land based and nearshore aquaculture practices.  Nonetheless, implementation of offshore aquaculture can be a complex and contentious process due to the wide range of uses and values in the oceans.  For example, a range of economic uses, such as fisheries and shipping, interact with aquaculture both in terms of space and resources, while potential impacts on recreation, conservation, and ocean viewsheds are also important to consider.

Since offshore aquaculture is still relatively undeveloped in most of the United States, there is an opportunity to proactively manage its development. Scientifically-informed spatial planning can reduce conflicts among competing uses, minimize environmental impacts, and maximize the collective benefits provided by the ocean. SFG and collaborators are generating the practical analytical tools that managers and stakeholders need to address these issues. Specifically, the goal of this Sea Grant funded project is to develop a framework to inform marine spatial planning for offshore aquaculture to optimize the value and success of aquaculture development in the context of multiple ocean uses.

Using southern California as a case region, this project will assess the potential conflicts and environmental impacts associated with open ocean aquaculture development.  We are considering the development of three types of aquaculture - finfish, shellfish, and algal culture- and are using bioeconomic modeling and tradeoff analysis to identify spatial siting options for aquaculture that maximize benefits and minimize conflicts and negative impacts. The framework we develop will hopefully inform aquaculture planning and regulation development in California in order to maximize sustainable production. This framework can then be adapted to inform aquaculture siting across the US and globally.  We aim to move the dialogue about offshore aquaculture development from a place of uncertainty regarding impacts and conflicts to a point where regulatory decisions can be made in a way that enhances compatibility with environmental regulations and a multitude of ocean uses.

Collaborators: Dr. Crow White, Rebecca Gentry, Dr. Carrie Kappel, Casey Maue, Joel Stevens, Dr. Rachel Simons, Dr. Libe Washburn, Tom Bell


photo credit: Becca Gentry