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 experimental oyster farming 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

NOAA Researchers both develop and utilize a number of tools to aid in assessing the impacts of aquaculture operations. These tools can aid farm operators and managers with site selection and environmental assessments.

Partnering with NOAA Finfish Aquaculture Labs

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.

Learn more about genetics and genomics tools

Fish Health

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.

Learn more about aquaculture fish health

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.

Learn more about aquaculture feeds

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 technologoies. 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.

Learn more about nutrient impacts in aquaculture