Aquaculture Supports a Sustainable Earth

September 30, 2020

Responsible aquaculture fits the 17 Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations.

The United Nations maintains 17 Sustainable Development Goals that serve as a framework for international cooperation to help people and the planet thrive.

A recent study from the UN shows that aquaculture can improve food security and nutrition by increasing the amount of seafood available for people to eat. If done correctly, aquaculture increases food production, boosts economic growth in coastal and rural areas, and can help keep waterways clean.

Explore how aquaculture fits into the UN’s sustainability goals:

 

1. Shellfish Beds Help Restore Our Waterways

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A researcher carries camera equipment through ankle-high water on an oyster farm.
A researcher travels to deploy underwater video cameras to assess the ecological role and potential habitat benefits of a shellfish farm in Washington State.

Shellfish such as oysters, clams, and mussels are not just a beach barbecue staple; they serve an important role in waterways. However, in some areas these shellfish have been largely lost from coastal ecosystems. Restoring and farming shellfish beds allows these bivalves to clean the water as they filter feed, serve as habitats for smaller organisms, and can even help prevent shoreline erosion. Preserving ecosystems, safeguarding biodiversity, and reversing land degradation are significant components of sustainable aquaculture.

Sustainable Development Goal 6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.Sustainable Development Goal 12.Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.Sustainable Development Goal 14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources.Sustainable Development Goal 15. Sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, halt biodiversity loss.

 

2. Producing More Seafood Can Alleviate Food Insecurity

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Kelp plants growing underwater with a school of fish swimming in the background.
Kelp is a carbon-negative, fast-growing crop that could help meet the challenge of food insecurity.

Although oceans cover 70 percent of the Earth, they account for less than 2 percent of human food production. Luckily, the number of sustainable aquaculture farms continues to increase to meet the demands of our growing population. Aquaculture, if done responsibly—as it is in the United States—is increasingly recognized as one of the most environmentally sustainable ways to produce food and protein. Leading health experts promote the value of adding seafood to one’s diet, especially for people who are pregnant or nursing and children. Farmed seafood can lead to improved nutrition and food security for many communities.

Sustainable Development Goal 1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere.Sustainable Development Goal 2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.Sustainable Development Goal 3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.

 

3. Aquaculture Creates Economic Opportunities  

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Two farmers sorting oysters on a boat loaded with bags and baskets of oysters.
Oyster farmers process their crop—harvesting oysters ready for market and maintaining their gear.

Aquaculture creates year-round jobs, supports resilient working waterfronts and coastal communities, and can provide sustainable economic growth. Across the United States, aquaculture production is valued at $1.5 billion. Aquaculture also drives employment in other areas of industry, such as seafood processing and feed and equipment manufacturing.

Sustainable Development Goal 1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere.Sustainable Development Goal 8. Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all.Sustainable Development Goal 9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.

 

4. Sustainable Aquaculture Advances Technology

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An Aquapod cage, a giant spherical free-range fish farm, floats offshore.
This Aquapod cage is an example of an innovative design that allows farmers to grow fish in the open ocean, away from crowded coastlines.

Sustainable aquaculture farming techniques focus on food production and environmental stewardship. Advanced technology, such as the free OceanReports mapping and planning tool, which analyzes “ocean neighborhoods.” It provides critical insights to make informed decisions that expand sustainable aquaculture opportunities while also minimizing potential environmental impacts. It also provides detailed information about habitats and species, current industries in the area, and potential hazards to aquaculture (such as undersea cables or shipwrecks).

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A screenshot of the OceanReports tool, showing an example of a report area for the Florida Everglades.
OceanReports provides instant custom reports with key information about ocean space. Users can draw an area anywhere in U.S. waters, or pick from a preset list of locations.

Sustainable Development Goal 9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.

 

5. Wild and Farmed Seafood is Good for Your Health

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A seafood market employee gestures toward several freshly caught, whole fish laying on a bed of ice next to a kitchen scale for weighing.
A fish market display of whole fish, including American farmed and wild options.

Aside from being just plain delicious, seafood is also great for your health. It contains nutrients that are linked to a multitude of benefits, including a reduced risk of coronary heart disease. Shellfish and fish (particularly salmon, tuna, and trout) are also a source of omega-3 fatty acids, which promote heart and brain health. Reliable sources of omega-3s are important, because our bodies are unable to produce them and they must be obtained through food. As aquaculture continues to expand seafood production, more people can include seafood in their diets, improving nutrition and well-being.

Sustainable Development Goal 2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.Sustainable Development Goal 3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.

 

6. Aquaculture Can Preserve Cultural Heritage

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A daytime photo of the Moli`i Fishpond at Kualoa Ranch in Oahu.
The Moli`i Fishpond at Kualoa Ranch is one of Oahu’s few remaining fishponds, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is currently used to raise Pacific oysters.

In practice for nearly 1,000 years, traditional Hawaiian fishponds (loko i’a) are a valued cultural and environmental tradition of the Pacific Islands. Used by native Hawaiians to raise and fatten fish until ready to harvest, many of these fishponds have unfortunately fallen into disrepair. However, an increasing number of fishpond managers are working to rehabilitate these ponds; the restored sites are playing an important role in local communities. As more fishponds are revitalized, the supply of local seafood, jobs, and other revenue streams can also grow. The fishponds promote economic growth, productive employment, and sustainable resource management.

Sustainable Development Goal 8. Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all.Sustainable Development Goal 12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.Sustainable Development Goal 14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources.Sustainable Development Goal 15. Sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, halt biodiversity loss.

 

7. Sustainability Fosters International Collaboration

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A salmon net pen shows above the surface of a body of water, with a tree-lined shore in the background.
Salmon are farmed in many countries around the world, creating opportunities for international collaboration to improve sustainable techniques while expanding seafood accessibility.

Marine aquaculture partnerships benefit from the sharing of costs, products, equipment, data, and technologies. International aquaculture collaboration creates a broad scientific community that exchanges ideas, new aquaculture methods and management approaches, and emerging trends. By sharing and implementing the latest sustainable aquaculture techniques, countries can meet their marine stewardship goals while expanding access to seafood. Collaboration allows us to work toward innovative technology, promote sustainable development, and partner to use the oceans.

Sustainable Development Goal 9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.Sustainable Development Goal 16. Promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies.Sustainable Development Goal 17. Revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.

 

8. Aquaculture is a Resource Efficient Food Production Method for a Changing Environment

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Three underwater divers inspect an aquaculture cage full of fish.
Divers inspect and maintain an open ocean aquaculture cage.

The current global population is more than 7 billion, and is expected to reach nearly 10 billion by 2050. Traditional land-based agriculture consumes more than half of all developed land and more than 70 percent of the world’s fresh water resources.

The ocean covers more than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, yet capture fisheries and a small marine aquaculture sector produce only 2 percent of the global food supply. There is great potential to reduce pressure on limited land-based resources by farming fish in the ocean. Partnerships between countries can allow nations to share resources and make faster progress.

Aquaculture offers many environmental benefits, relative to other forms of livestock farming. Marine aquaculture operations typically have a smaller carbon footprint, and require less land and fresh water. They are more efficient at converting feed into protein for human consumption than beef, pork, and poultry. The expansion of sustainable aquaculture is vital to increasing food production in a changing environment.

Sustainable Development Goal 6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.Sustainable Development Goal 9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.Sustainable Development Goal 10. Reduce inequality within and among countries.Sustainable Development Goal 11. Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.Sustainable Development Goal 13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.


NOAA is committed to fostering sustainable domestic aquaculture growth to expand the economic, environmental, and social benefits that sustainable aquaculture presents. Much like the U.S. wild-capture industry, we hope to make the U.S. a leader in responsible aquaculture production.

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List of all 17 sustainable development goals with the United Nations logo.

UN Sustainability Goals

 

Insight

Understanding Marine Aquaculture

The United States has a small and vibrant commercial marine aquaculture industry supported by world class research and technology.

Musssel harvest in Shelton, WA

Last updated by Office of Aquaculture on September 30, 2020