NOAA Finfish Aquaculture Research
Marine aquaculture is part of the agency’s strategy for economic and environmental resiliency in coastal communities. Marine aquaculture operations provide a year-round source of high-quality jobs and economic opportunities in coastal communities that augment seasonal tourism and commercial fishing. NOAA has a long and rich tradition in aquaculture and has been working on aquaculture-related issues since it's predecessor agency, the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries, engaged in stock enhancement of salmon and marine fish and experimental oyster farming more than five decades ago. In the United States, aquaculture technologies and management practices have continued to evolve through lessons-learned as well as through significant public and private research focused on bringing greater efficiency, sustainability, and cost-effectiveness to the source of half of the seafood eaten on the planet. Aquaculture research also emphasizes habitat-related work for stock enhancement and restoration.
What NOAA Fisheries Does
- Develop understanding of potential impacts and their mitigation for finfish aquaculture.
- Develop improved understanding and technology for continuous economic and environmental improvement of finfish aquaculture
Tools for Managers
Partnering with NOAA Aquaculture Labs
- NOAA Technology Partnerships Office (TPO)
- Works with NOAA inventors and companies looking to partner with NOAA or license our technologies
- Northwest Fisheries Science Center Manchester & Montlake Lab
- Alternative feeds, larval fish physiology, systems engineering, genetics
- Southwest Fisheries Science Center La Jolla Lab
- Genetics & genomics
- Northeast Fisheries Science Center Milford Lab
- Recirculating aquaculture, physiology, feeds, nutrition
- NOAA Fisheries and National Ocean Service Beaufort Laboratory
- Harmful algal blooms & aquaculture siting
Finfish Genetics and Genomics Tools
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.
Farmed and wild fish, like all animals, are susceptible to bacterial, viral and parasitic infections. Healthy farmed fish are advantageous to both aquaculturists and natural resource managers. Fish farmers depend on high survival rates and marketing healthy fish in order to keep businesses operating.
Aquaculture Feeds and Nutrition
Fish, both farmed and wild, require a balanced mix of essential nutrients, amino acids, fatty acids and energy. Traditionally, fish feeds have contained a high percentage of fishmeal and fish oil because the balance of nutrients most closely resemble the requirements of fish. However, partial or total replacement of fishmeal and fish oil in feeds is becoming the norm. Feeds eliminating these ingredients have been used experimentally to feed farmed Atlantic Salmon, Rainbow Trout, Red Sea Bream, Grouper, White Sea Bass, and Cobia. Fish in these studies show similar growth and survival to those fed on feeds containing fish meal and fish oil.
Nutrient Impacts of Finfish Aquaculture
Impacts to the environment around finfish farms can occur when nutrient inputs exceed the capacity of the ecosystem to assimilate them. Uneaten feed and fish wastes are the main sources of excess organic nutrients from finfish farms. However, many potential environmental impacts and risks can be avoided with prudent farm siting, proper management, and modern technologies. Modeling interactions between farm production and environmental processes can guide decisions about industry location and practices to prevent exceeding a site’s ecological carrying capacity.
Good site selection requires consideration of a number of environmental, navigational, social, and economic factors to ensure that a fish farm maintains healthy ecosystems and is economically viable. When farms are well-sited, nutrient impacts are unlikely or undetectable, ocean use conflicts are avoided, and important ecologically sensitive ocean areas and species are maintained. NOAA provides high quality science, guidance, and tools to support aquaculture siting and permitting decisions, and works with partners to ensure this information is applied in management settings.