Understanding Marine Aquaculture
The United States has a small and vibrant commercial marine aquaculture industry supported by world class research and technology.
Marine aquaculture (or farmed seafood) is vital for supporting our nation’s seafood production, year-round jobs, rebuilding protected species and habitats, and enhancing coastal resilience. Aquaculture—the breeding, rearing, and harvesting of animals and plants in all types of water environments—is one of the most resource-efficient ways to produce protein and has helped improve nutrition and food security in many parts of the world. Globally, aquaculture supplies more than 50 percent of all seafood produced for human consumption—and that percentage will continue to rise.
At NOAA Fisheries, we support cutting-edge science and research as well as federal policy making and regulation to grow sustainable aquaculture in the United States and reap its social, economic, and environmental benefits while supporting commercial and recreational fisheries. We foster responsible aquaculture that provides safe, sustainable seafood; creates employment and business opportunities in coastal communities; and complements NOAA’s comprehensive strategy for maintaining healthy and productive marine populations, ecosystems, and vibrant coastal communities.
The United States produced $1.5 billion worth of aquaculture seafood in 2016. The top U.S. marine aquaculture species were oysters ($192 million), clams ($138 million), and Atlantic salmon ($68 million).
The value of U.S. aquaculture production equals 21% of the value of total U.S. seafood production.
The United States imports about 80% of its seafood, and nearly 50% of the imported seafood is produced via aquaculture.
Our oceans cover over 70% of the Earth’s surface, but currently account for only 2% of human food. With limited arable land and freshwater, the world is turning to the oceans for additional food supply as global population is projected to increase to 9 billion by the year 2050.
We are working hard to foster the growth of aquaculture in the United States not only to help meet U.S. seafood demand, but also to help encourage job growth. We are involved in a variety of aquaculture activities around the country and offer assistance through our regional aquaculture coordinators.
Fisheries and aquaculture remain important sources of food, nutrition, income and livelihoods for hundreds of millions of people around the world. World per capita fish supply reached a new record high of 20 kg in 2014, thanks to vigorous growth in aquaculture, which now provides half of all fish for human consumption, and to a slight improvement in the state of certain fish stocks due to improved fisheries management.
Shellfish farming and restoration is critical to get more oysters, clams, and mussels in the water for food, jobs, and ecosystem services. We are working with partners to address environmental research, spatial planning, permitting, restoration, and farming techniques for shellfish aquaculture.
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 aquaculture. A variety of techniques and technologies – each with its own advantages and disadvantages – can be used to raise finfish.
There are a number of financial assistance programs that support sustainable aquaculture in the United States. Funding can address a variety of issues such as environmental monitoring, recirculating aquaculture systems, shellfish farming, alternative feeds, new species research, and offshore aquaculture.
Many stakeholders want to understand the challenges and benefits of aquaculture, especially as communities look for ways to maintain working waterfronts and diversify their seafood portfolio. Providing outreach materials to the public with accurate information about the state of aquaculture research, management practices, and key initiatives is vital to cultivating public understanding of farmed seafood.
In the United States, marine aquaculture operates within one of the most comprehensive regulatory environments in the world. Projects that are sited in U.S. waters must meet a number of federal, state, and local regulations that ensure environmental protection, water quality, and healthy oceans.
NOAA Fisheries plays a central role in developing and implementing policies that enable marine aquaculture and works to ensure that aquaculture complies with existing federal laws and regulations that NOAA enforces under its marine stewardship mission.
Science and adaptive management inform NOAA policy, regulatory, and management decisions regarding aquaculture in marine waters.
NOAA conducts regulatory activities for marine aquaculture under a suite of federal statutes designed to sustain healthy oceans. The agency also engages in consultations with other agencies that issue permits for aquaculture activities in state and federal waters.
The National Aquaculture Act of 1980 established aquaculture as a national policy priority for the United States and created the Interagency Working Group on Aquaculture as the institutional structure through which NOAA coordinates with other federal agencies on aquaculture-related activities.
NOAA has also implemented a Fishery Management Plan for Regulating Offshore Marine Aquaculture in the Gulf of Mexico. This is the first comprehensive regional approach to authorizing aquaculture in federal waters.
NOAA is a co-chair of the Subcommittee on Aquaculture. The SCA serves as the Federal interagency coordinating group to increase the overall effectiveness and productivity of Federal aquaculture research, regulation, technology transfer, and assistance programs.
Learn More About the SCA:
The National Shellfish Initiative aims to increase populations of bivalve shellfish (oysters, clams, and mussels) in our nation’s coastal waters through commercial production and conservation activities. Efforts focus on encouraging shellfish aquaculture, advancing science and research, and streamlining permitting at federal, state, and local levels.
Inspired by this national initiative, the Washington State Shellfish Initiative was the first partnership of federal and state agencies, tribes, the shellfish industry, and the restoration community to restore and expand shellfish resources to promote shellfish aquaculture and create family-wage jobs.
Today there is a growing number of state shellfish initiatives including California, Connecticut, North Carolina, and Rhode Island. Alaska has also launched a mariculture initiative to expand both shellfish and seaweed farming in the state.
We are working to address the technical and scientific barriers of marine aquaculture and to provide science information for management in a number of ways, including through in-house research at NOAA, grants and cooperative agreements with Sea Grant and other stakeholders, and by coordinating research with other federal agencies.
Several NOAA Fisheries Science Centers explore a wide spectrum of issues including the culture of specific species, life-cycle analysis, alternative feeds, ocean acidification, and habitat benefits and impacts.
For example, the Northeast Fisheries Science Center Milford Laboratory, established in 1931, is located on the shore of Long Island Sound. The facility comprises two laboratory/office buildings and support buildings housing raceway and circular tanks. A 49-foot vessel, the R/V Victor Loosanoff, is also docked at the Laboratory for nearshore research. Present research emphasizes aquaculture and habitat-related work. The aquaculture program includes studies of the culture of fish and shellfish to develop methods suitable for commercial use as well as for stock enhancement and restoration. Nearshore habitats are being studied to determine what characteristics make a habitat suitable for a particular species.
Additionally, the Northwest Fisheries Science Center Environmental and Fisheries Science Division conducts research to improve methods for fisheries restoration and production in conservation hatcheries and in aquaculture. Research focuses on the effects of ocean acidification on shellfish, shellfish safety (harmful algal blooms and pathogens), and native Olympia oyster restoration. Lab research also includes alternative marine fish feeds, larval fish physiology and nutrition.
At the NOAA Beaufort Laboratory, scientists from NOAA Fisheries and National Ocean Service conduct a variety of research including harmful algal blooms, seafloor mapping, and aquaculture.
NOAA has marine aquaculture research capabilities at in-house laboratories within the Fisheries Service and the Ocean Service, and research and extension capabilities through state Sea Grant programs. This story map covers the in-house projects funded by the NOAA Fisheries Office of Aquaculture. The research explores a wide spectrum of relevant issues including the culture of specific species, life-cycle analysis, alternative feeds, ocean acidification, and potential habitat benefits and impacts. This Story Map serves as a tool to highlight NOAA's aquaculture research and as well as to connect researchers with topics of common interest. It is updated periodically as new projects are planned and implemented.
Since 1998, NOAA has funded aquaculture projects through the Sea Grant Marine Aquaculture grant program, a competitive grants program coordinated by the National Sea Grant College Program. Several other grant opportunities are administered or funded through NOAA Fisheries. Together these grants have funded projects that have responded to key scientific, engineering, environmental, and economic questions such as studies of candidate species, health and nutrition, best management practices, ecosystems monitoring and management, engineered production systems, and legal and operational frameworks.
Aquaculture is present along our coasts and in our oceans across the nation. Activities and products vary by region so we have regional coordinators supporting these activities and increasing awareness of region-specific issues.
The Alaska mariculture industry produces shellfish and aquatic plants along Alaska’s coastline. As of 2016, mariculture activity in Alaska consists of approximately 75 operations, including 65 authorized farms, seven nurseries, and three hatcheries. Most operations are located along the coastline in either Southeast or Southcentral Alaska.
The New England/Mid-Atlantic region has a commercial marine aquaculture industry supported by a research and technology sector. Landings from marine aquaculture (predominantly Atlantic Salmon and oysters, but also clams, mussels, and other species) totaled approximately $219 million in this region in 2013. This makes aquaculture the third most valuable fishery in the region in terms of economic revenue, behind scallops and American lobster.
Farmed items in New England and the Mid-Atlantic include finfish, shellfish, and sea vegetables grown as food for human consumption. Hatchery-raised species are also used habitat (e.g., oyster) and endangered species (e.g., Atlantic salmon) restoration.
In the Pacific Northwest, we work closely with regional tribes, the states of Washington, Oregon, and California, the aquaculture industry and non-governmental organizations on fish, shellfish, and algae species. Washington State is our nation's leading producer of farmed shellfish. The region primarily grows oysters, mussels, clam, as well as Atlantic and Pacific salmon species.
We also work with partners to responsibly restore populations of native Olympia oysters, pinto abalone, and Pacific salmon. Aquaculture-related research at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center focuses on the effects of ocean acidification on shellfish, shellfish safety (harmful algal blooms and pathogens), and native Olympia oyster restoration.
The Pacific Islands region primarily grows finfish, such as kampachi (Seriola rivoliana), shrimp, and marine algae for commercial purposes.
In the southeast, marine aquaculture focuses on stock enhancement, food production, research, and restoration efforts. Species cultured in the region include oysters, clams, red drum, spotted seatrout, flounder, snook, pompano, black seabass, and algae. Aquaculture occurs on land in recirculating systems or ponds as well as in coastal areas or state waters. We have also provided funding for projects related to culture of red snapper, blackfin tuna, cobia, and baitfish species as well as for research into alternative diets for marine finfish.
California primarily grows Pacific oysters, Kumamoto oysters, and manila clams for commercial purposes, with lesser amounts of Mediterranean mussels, Atlantic oysters, red abalone, rock scallops, and seaweed. Research in the Southwest focuses on abalone recovery at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center and Olympia oyster restoration by various sectors of academia, primarily in the San Francisco Bay area.
We collaborate with international partners on a broad range of activities related to research, technology development, and management of marine aquaculture. International cooperation is essential for NOAA to meet many of its goals to advance marine aquaculture in the United States. Working with other nations in areas of mutual interest allows NOAA to leverage the expertise, research advancements, and regulatory approaches of its international partners.
Our international work on marine aquaculture research and management is focused on achieving four goals:
International collaboration can take many forms, such as supporting exchanges with international researchers, developing regional aquaculture management agreements, and providing trade and industry services. Such collaboration can help achieve our international goals through:
The Office of Aquaculture works on a variety of international treaty obligations and bilateral/trilateral arrangements and through a variety of international organizations. Key partnerships include:
NOAA Fisheries regularly holds consultations with many countries and fishing entities to exchange views and enlist support for U.S. aquaculture, fisheries trade, and management initiatives. The U.S. government currently has bilateral agreements with: