Rapid worldwide development of marine finfish cage farming has raised awareness of the possible genetic and ecological effects of escaped fish on wild fish of the same species.
With increased interest in marine aquaculture in the United States, NOAA Fisheries has supported the development of a scientific decision-support tool called the Off-shore Mariculture Escapes Genetics Assessment (OMEGA) model to better understand these effects and aid in the design of management strategies to address the potential risks to marine resources.
OMEGA is a mathematical model with inputs including the size and growth characteristics of the cultured fish, the frequency and magnitude of escape events, survival rates of escapees in the wild, probability of escaped fish encountering wild conspecifics and interbreeding, and the dynamics of the wild population. Outputs from OMEGA describe the influence these aquaculture escapees may have on the survival and genetic fitness (after Ford 2002) of the mixed population over time. Broadly, model results have indicated that the magnitude and duration of the impacts depend upon the number of fish that escape versus the wild population size, as well as the genetic difference between aquaculture and wild fish.
NOAA Fisheries is using the OMEGA model to identify and evaluate the genetic risks associated with marine aquaculture operations, recommend management practices for responsible and sustainable aquaculture programs, explore the effects of regulation and technical advances, and identify research priorities.
Download the OMEGA Model (coming soon)
The NOAA Office of Aquaculture is interested in collaboration to develop model scenarios, evaluate model parameters, and validate the model with data from current and planned aquaculture operations. Please contact NMFS.email@example.com.
Below are links to the model (Excel macro-enabled workbook) and the supporting documentation.