Aquaculture Genetics & Genomics Tools

Atlantic Salmon Pen.jpg

Atlantic salmon aquaculture in the US.

Genetics and genomics are powerful biological tools for studying fish and fish populations. Just as genetic techniques are used in agriculture to select for and breed crops or animals with desired traits, these tools can be used in aquaculture. Genetic selection in aquaculture may focus on desirable traits, such as improved growth rate, disease resistance, feed conversion, or product quality. In addition to increasing profitability, farmed fish with these traits can increase resource efficiency and environmental sustainability of aquaculture operations by producing less waste, posing less of a disease risk, and using feed more efficiently. Genomics allows for broader genome-wide studies, better detection capabilities and cost effectiveness.

Specifically, genetics and genomics techniques may be used to:

  • Determine what genes and traits are important for fish growth and development
  • Inform how these traits are passed from parent to offspring
  • Improve understanding and of genetic variation in farmed fish
  • Aid in the selection of broodstock with a desirable genetic makeup
  • Allow for selective breeding of individuals with specific desired traits 

Addressing the Risk of Escapes

Genetics and genomics are also important tools for understanding and managing some of the risks associated with escaped farmed fish. While technological improvements and best management practices have decreased the magnitude and frequency of escapes, it is inevitable that some captive fish will escape aquaculture operations and mix with the wild populations. Interbreeding of farmed and wild fish may then result in the loss of genetic diversity and fitness in wild populations. 

Genetics and genomics are being used to: 
  • Develop baselines for global and local genetic diversity within and among wild populations 
  • Monitor the genetic diversity and profile of both wild and captive populations
  • Model the influence escaped fish may have on the genetic profile and fitness of the wild population

NOAA Genetics Research

The SWFSC's Genetics, Physiology & Aquaculture program has been using genetics and genomics to study the commerially relevant aquaculture species California yellowtail. Research areas include examining the genetic diversity of yellowtail to develop a baseline of genetic variability, evaluating traits for broodstock selection, and investigating how the genetics and physiology of aquaculture-reared fish relate to health and fitness.
The NWFSC's Quantitative Genetics & Aquaculture program looks to udnerstand how fish grow, resist disease and mature. Researchers are appling breeding genetics and developing genomics tools to illuminate how animals adapt to culture situations, and also to detect and assess the consequences of interaction between escaped fish and wild fish.

The OMEGA Model

The Offshore Mariculture Escapes Genetic Assessment (OMEGA) Model was developed to address the genetic and ecological effects of escaped fish on wild fish of the same species. It is currently being used to inform permitting decisions by coastal managers.


Last updated by Office of Aquaculture on April 10, 2018