U.S. Aquaculture Makes Sense

Don’t be too surprised if in the near future you learn that your favorite trout or salmon dinner was raised on a U.S. fish farm. Domestic aquaculture, often referred to as fish or shellfish farming, is the art of breeding aquatic animals in fresh or marine waters for consumption. Aquaculture makes good health, economic, and environmental sense for Americans!

Aquaculture Makes Good Health Sense

Pacific halibut dinner.

Pacific halibut.

High resolution (Credit:NOAA)

Recent research reaffirms the benefits of seafood to our health. Federal health experts advise Americans to eat at least two servings of seafood each week. Seafood is an excellent, affordable source of protein; low in fat and sodium; and contains nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, which are important to good health. The advantages of eating a diet rich in seafood include a healthier, smarter, and longer-lived U.S. population. In fact, eating a variety of seafood as part of your regular diet has been shown to help fight cardiovascular disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and many other major illnesses.

As a result of health benefits, the demand for seafood is on the rise in the U.S. and abroad and is projected to keep growing. With wild fisheries stable or static, any increase in the seafood supply will most likely come from aquaculture -- either imported or domestic. What most people don’t realize is that more than 80 percent of the seafood Americans consume is imported, and at least half of that is farmed seafood.

Expanding U.S. aquaculture is an effective way to reduce our dependence on seafood imports, which results in an U.S. seafood trade deficit of between $8 to 10 billion each year (ranking second only to oil among natural products being imported). Therefore, the U.S. economy also would benefit through the expansion of the domestic aquaculture industry.

View from inside a Hawaii offshore aquaculture cage with Moi swimming near the surface.

View from inside a Hawaii offshore aquaculture cage with Moi swimming near the surface.

High resolution (Credit:NOAA)

Aquaculture Makes
Economic Sense

Businesses and consumers benefit from a more robust U.S. aquaculture industry. Farmers, feed manufacturers, equipment manufacturers, marinas, cold storage facilities, seafood processors, transportation companies, retailers, and restaurants all play a role in getting seafood from the farm to the table. Aquaculture also is catching on among some commercial fishermen who have adopted the practice as an additional business opportunity between fishing seasons. Some commercial fishermen in the Gulf of Maine, for example, are beginning to farm mussels.

Aquaculture Makes Environmental Sense

Environmentally safe, sustainable aquaculture is vital to protecting the environment, as well as human health and safety. Management practices for aquaculture have been developed and refined to ensure U.S. farming operations reduce or mitigate the environmental risks associated with aquaculture.

Deploying an Ocean Spar Sea Station by the Gulf of Mexico Offshore Aquaculture Consortium.

Deploying an Ocean Spar Sea Station by the Gulf of Mexico Offshore Aquaculture Consortium.

High resolution (Credit:NOAA)

Standard management practices used today include regular inspections by divers to ensure the integrity of nets and net infrastructure; cameras and surveillance to monitor efficient use of feed; regular health inspections to prevent disease; and comprehensive sanitary and bio-security programs to prevent the introduction and/or spread of pests or diseases from one farm site/cage to another or into the environment.

NOAA also is working to develop more sustainable alternative ingredients for fishmeal used in aquaculture. For example, scientists from NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center, along with scientists from other agencies and industry, are developing alternative feed ingredients for cultured species, including finfish. This groundbreaking research – using soybeans, barley, rice, peas, and other crops as alternatives – is expanding in the U.S. and across the globe.

The United States benefits both from a strong commercial fishing and a robust aquaculture industry to meet the rising demand for seafood and to enhance domestic commercial and recreational fish stocks. To address this need, NOAA’s Aquaculture Program integrates and coordinates the agency’s aquaculture policies, research, and outreach. NOAA’s 10-Year Plan for Marine Aquaculture provides specific goals and an assessment of the challenges the agency will face in its effort to reach these goals. NOAA logo.