Home > Explore Projects > Environmental Models for Marine Aquaculture and Spatial Planning
NCCOS Project

Environmental Models for Marine Aquaculture and Spatial Planning

This project began in May 2012 and is Ongoing

We are developing marine spatial planning tools and best management practices for marine aquaculture to minimize or eliminate any negative environmental effects. We are providing strategic planning and technical guidance to industry stakeholders, management and regulatory agencies, and conservation organizations. By providing an alternative to wild-caught fish, aquaculture builds the U.S. industry's share, while it conserves, protects, manages, and maintains our marine resources.

Why We Care
The decline in ocean fisheries and a growing demand for seafood has led to exponential growth in the aquaculture industry worldwide. Global aquaculture production is valued at $100 billion annually, but the United States has only a 1 percent share. We import over 80 percent of our seafood, creating an annual seafood trade deficit exceeding $10 billion.

Offshore aquaculture is a promising new frontier for United States seafood production. NOAA is committed to expanding the aquaculture industry to create jobs, support working waterfronts, and increase production of valuable domestic seafood products. A decade of research and demonstration projects found major environmental benefits from working in the open ocean.

However, the growth and development of the offshore aquaculture industry has been constrained by concerns about negative environmental effects of improperly sited farms. Improved site selection is a prerequisite to developing a sustainable offshore aquaculture industry.

What We Are Doing 
We are developing marine spatial planning tools and best management practices to evaluate the effects of marine aquaculture on coastal ocean environments, and we’re partnering with industry, managers, and regulators to apply the tools. Our goals are to:

  • Develop a framework to review and evaluate aquaculture effects models used for siting marine fish farms
  • Conduct environmental modeling simulations based on pilot-scale and commercial-scale aquaculture operations throughout the United States
  • Identify thresholds for pollutant effects that may indicate local and ecosystem level impacts
  • Ensure that our tools and knowledge get implemented by partners in industry, management, regulatory agencies, and conservation organizations.

This project leverages and builds on existing national data systems for coastal and marine spatial planning. We are also evaluating novel instruments, analytical tools, and modeling applications to use in the development of offshore aquaculture operations, including benthic and biographic surveys and high-resolution mapping technologies that can be used to site aquaculture operations. Models incorporate geographical information systems (GIS) and remote sensing technology for a real-time, three-dimensional simulation of environmental effects. We are looking for tools that can be used within the context of ecosystem-based management to forecast marine aquaculture impacts, their extent, reversibility, and cumulative effects.

Next Steps
Our results will be incorporated into specialized decision support tools, including models, assessments, and visualization capabilities for marine spatial planning and adaptive management. They have immediate application in the U.S. northeast Atlantic and northwest Pacific, the Pacific Islands, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean, and we expect that, with minor modifications, they can be used to evaluate and develop technology for the entire United States coast.

Additional Resources

Click to expand resource list(s).

Explore Similar Projects
No posts found.


NCCOS delivers ecosystem science solutions for stewardship of the nation’s ocean and coastal resources to sustain thriving coastal communities and economies.

Stay Connected

Sign up for our quarterly newsletter or view our archives.

Follow us on Social

Listen to our Podcast

Check our our new podcast "Coastal Conversations"