Frequent Questions—Marine Aquaculture and Recreational Fishing Interactions
Marine aquaculture and recreational fishing continue to be priorities for NOAA Fisheries as we work to foster a stronger connection between the two industries.
The United States is a global leader in sustainable seafood, both wild-caught and farmed. U.S. fishermen and aquaculture farmers operate under some of the most robust and transparent environmental standards in the world.
Today, an increasing number of organizations, agencies, and entrepreneurs are looking to marine aquaculture as a sustainable and resource-efficient way to increase economic opportunities and diversify seafood production. As domestic aquaculture continues to expand, NOAA Fisheries is a source for information about current challenges and opportunities.
Does aquaculture impact water quality and benthic habitat needed for healthy wild populations?
NOAA scientists partner with regulatory authorities working under the requirements of the Clean Water Act to ensure farms are appropriately managed and located in waters with adequate currents. Currents and water flow allow for waste to be dispersed and safely absorbed into the local surrounding environment, and recycled through natural ecosystem processes. Healthy seafloor sediments and associated organisms maintain water quality and dissolved oxygen levels, which are key to sustaining ecosystem health and farm productivity.
Aquaculture can also provide beneficial ecosystem services, such as shellfish and seaweed farms removing nitrogen from the water and providing habitat for other marine species. An adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day–meaning a farm with 100,000 oysters per acre could filter up to 5,000,000 gallons of water per day–equivalent to the volume of about eight Olympic-size swimming pools! Further, shellfish and seaweed farms represent one of very few opportunities for in-water removal of excess nutrients from coastal bays and estuaries–a challenge facing many water bodies nationwide.
Are the fish feeds used in aquaculture sustainable?
Partial or total replacement of fishmeal and fish oil in feeds helps decrease the use of small forage fish, reduces feed costs for farmers, and most importantly, safely meets the nutritional needs of fish and humans.
Sustainable fish feed replacement options currently in use or being developed include meals and oils from plants, fish processing trimmings, yeast, insects and other special meals, even seaweed. Alternative ingredients already in use include proteins from soybeans, corn, peas, and wheat, and oils from soybean, canola, and flaxseed. These replacements reduce the reliance on raw marine materials for aquaculture feeds.
In addition, some of the fish meal and oil still used now comes from “trimmings”—the heads, tails, and other parts left over from seafood processing plants. Until recently, these were discarded as waste. Through innovation from NOAA and our partners, trimmings are now a valued source of ingredients.
What are the potential impacts of escaped aquaculture fish on wild species?
Escapes have dramatically decreased over time thanks to advances in cage design, including stronger net material, improved mooring components, and the addition of anti-predator nets. Best management practices such as choosing appropriate cage technology for an area, routine inspection, and good maintenance also reduce escapes.
The primary concern with escaped fish is the notion that they will harm wild stocks either through competition for food or habitat, disease, or through reproductive mixing. But typically, domesticated fish raised in captivity are poor performers and have low fitness in the wild. Escapees quickly become prey to other predators, lessening their potential for food and habitat competition.
What are the genetic impacts of aquaculture escapes?
NOAA’s Aquaculture Policy supports the use of only native or naturalized species for aquaculture in federal waters. Reproduction between farmed and wild fish may have negative genetic consequences for the mixed population, lowering fitness and potentially limiting the ability of the wild fish to respond to changing environmental conditions. These potential impacts to the genetic diversity of wild fish can be minimized by selecting hatchery brood stock from a large population of local wild fish so the genetic makeup is similar to wild counterparts. In extreme cases where this is not possible, stocking of sterile fish, or a single-sex population of fish, can also reduce potential genetic impacts related to reproduction. Over time, domesticated stocks become less and less fit to compete, survive, and reproduce in the wild. The overall risk presented by escapes is a complex mix of these and other conditions, but often it can be quite low.
To understand these genetic concerns from escape events, NOAA Fisheries and our partners developed a decision-support tool called the Offshore Mariculture Escapes Genetics Assessment model. It is a mathematical model with inputs that include:
- Size and growth characteristics of the cultured and wild fish
- Frequency and magnitude of escape events over a century
- Survival rates of escapees in the wild
- Probability of escaped fish encountering wild counterparts and interbreeding
- Dynamics of the wild population
This tool provides robust, data-driven analysis to better inform decision makers regarding the potential genetic impacts of fish escapes.
Does NOAA take fishing access into account when siting aquaculture farms?
Considering NOAA trust resources and stakeholder uses helps us site aquaculture farms in areas that minimize impacts to natural resources and reduce user conflicts. Developed by NOAA’s National Ocean Service and partners, OceanReports queries more than 100 marine datasets to generate custom spatial reports and infographics for any ocean space or “neighborhood.” These datasets include everything from ocean current speed to deep-sea corals and current uses of ocean space observed in that area. This can be helpful during early stages of the planning and permitting process. Applicants can use this information to inform discussions with regulators and community members at local, state, and federal levels.
Other efforts to maintain fishing access include requests for information, and public comment periods that encourage new insights. Through proactive planning efforts like Aquaculture Opportunity Areas, NOAA invites all interested parties to provide relevant information on the identification of areas suitable for commercial aquaculture, including the issue of fishing access.
By submitting public comments and data, you can help expand domestic seafood production while minimizing potential user conflicts and ensuring that AOAs are shaped through a public process.
Does aquaculture provide recreational fishing opportunities?
Location is one of the most important considerations in setting up a farm. An understanding of the surrounding ecosystem helps farmers choose the most suitable products to grow, while decreasing potential impacts and maximizing ecosystem services.
The underwater structures of an aquaculture farm can draw in many species, often making aquaculture sites a destination for recreational fishing. The ropes, cages, and other submerged equipment encourage the settlement of marine plants and small crustaceans and mollusks, which in turn attract fish. Farms can serve as productive habitats, providing habitat for forage, refuge, and reproduction. These are just a few ways that farmed shellfish and seaweed can positively impact their surroundings, when combined with wild counterparts.