Story map: Farming in water

Farming in water, or aquaculture, means breeding, rearing and harvesting animals and plants in marine and freshwater.



Aquaculture split screen image.

Aquaculture split screen image. (Image credit: NOAA)

We must plant the sea and herd its animals, using the sea as farmers instead of hunters.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Jacques Cousteau

Aquaculture's legacy is ancient.

Centuries-old Hawaiian fishponds still stand as remarkable engineering feats. These culturally important fishponds were built by hand, without any mortar. Interlocking rocks kept fish safely in, and let water flow back and forth.

Fish not only thrived, but were easy to catch.

Kaloko Fishpond
Kaloko Fishpond (National Park Service)


Driven by demand, ingenuity, and high market value, aquaculture has continued to grow.

In 1980, Congress recognized the importance of domestic aquaculture to U.S. food security by enacting legislation encouraging NOAA and other federal agencies to farm in U.S. waters. 

Aquaculture is a fast-rising agricultural frontier


This Aquapod, or cage, allows farmers to grow fish in the open ocean, away from crowded coastlines. With NOAA's cutting-edge research and industry's innovative designs, seafood producers can expand sustainable and environmentally-sound farming out to sea.
This Aquapod, or cage, allows farmers to grow fish in the open ocean, away from crowded coastlines. With NOAA's cutting-edge research and industry's innovative designs, seafood producers can expand sustainable and environmentally-sound farming out to sea. (NOAA)


Aquaculture is rapidly gaining prominence, both for food security and as a local to global economic driver.

In 2015, the average American ate 15.5 pounds of fish and shellfish, a 0.9 pound increase from 2014. But while global population and seafood consumption are rising, the global abundance of wild fish is not. Wild fish harvests have plateaued for more than 30 years.


World capture fisheries and aquaculture production.
World capture fisheries and aquaculture production. (FOA)

U.S. aquaculture boosting U.S. economy


In 2015, U.S. seafood and fish production was valued at a substantial $5.3 billion. Aquaculture accounted for 21 percent of this value.

Production was 6.6 percent higher than in 2014. 

Through science and technical guidance, and by streamlining permit processes and funding research projects, NOAA contributed significantly to this growth. 

2015 Aquaculture Production
2015 Aquaculture Production (NOAA)


NOAA a leader in U.S. sustainable aquaculture


Examples of aquaculture growers in the field and lab.
Examples of aquaculture growers in the field and lab. (NOAA)


In the United States, seafood demand far outstrips national supply. More than 90 percent of our edible seafood is imported, and almost 50 percent of this seafood is farmed.

NOAA is working hard to put more domestic seafood on U.S. tables, which will help to reduce America’s $14 billion edible seafood trade deficit.

NOAA’s Aquaculture Program is leading these efforts.

Collaborating with public and private stakeholders, this program includes the activities of three NOAA offices, each playing a distinct and complementary role: NOAA Fisheries Office of Aquaculture; NOAA National Ocean Service’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science; and NOAA Research’s Sea Grant Program

Collectively, these programs conduct science and deliver services vitally important to sustainable U.S. aquaculture.


NOAA Aquaculture Program
NOAA Aquaculture Program (NOAA)


Vast potential to leverage successes

Aquaculture grows resilient coastal communities
Aquaculture grows resilient coastal communities (NOAA)


The open ocean, our coastal waters, even tanks in land-bound states all invite opportunities to grow more fish, shellfish and marine plants.

NOAA science, partnerships and pioneering techniques are building on these expanded opportunities, leading to more jobs, increased food security, revitalized waterfronts, and the restoration of depleted species and habitats.

There’s also a vast global market to tap. More than half of all seafood consumed by humans comes from aquaculture, a percentage that will continue to rise.

Partnering with America's growers


Examples of aquaculture growers.
Examples of aquaculture growers. (NOAA)


Along U.S. coasts, NOAA collaborates with fish farmers who are producing healthy, local and sustainable seafood.

Scientific needs of management and industry are addressed, including feed innovations, site analyses, and genetics and life cycle research on important aquaculture species. In the Gulf of Mexico, improved federal regulatory processes facilitate more efficient interagency reviews of permit applications for proposed offshore aquaculture operations. The processes reduce wait times, ensure transparency, and minimize environmental impacts. 

The strength of NOAA’s Aquaculture Program lies not only in scientific research, policy and management techniques, but in the relationships NOAA builds with America’s growers.

Here are just a few of their stories offsite link:

  • Farming on rafts in New Hampshire: University of New Hampshire and New Hampshire Sea Grant work with fishermen to grow multiple marine species on raft farms. Each year, this allows growers to diversify harvest, supply local markets, and supplement income with 4,000 pounds of steelhead trout,10,000 pounds of blue mussels, and 2,000 pounds of sugar kelp from the same small space.
  • Open ocean aquaculture in Hawaii: Blue Ocean leases a 92-acre offshore site from the State of Hawaii. Founded to farm sustainable seafood, Blue Ocean raised 900,000 pounds of Hawaiian Kanpachi finfish in 2017. This year, Blue Ocean expects to raise 1.7 million pounds. With twice a week harvest, these fresh-farmed fish are making their way to dinner plates and sushi rolls. 
  • Pioneering techniques in California: The first in California to farm mussels offshore, Santa Barbara Mariculture has pioneered eco-friendly techniques to grow shellfish in state waters since 2002. Harvesting 100,000 pounds annually, this farm uses long-lines to hang juvenile mussels in the water column, allowing the shellfish to grow and filter feed in the nutrient-rich water off California’s coast. 
  • “3D Farming” in Connecticut: Thimble Island Farm in Connecticut uses innovative “3D farming” to annually harvest 250,000 pounds of shellfish, 100,000 pounds of seaweed, and other crops with zero use of feed or fertilizer. Farmers use the full water column, with seaweed near the surface to capture sunlight, lines with mussels below that, and oyster and clam cages on the ocean floor.
  • South Carolina success on the half-shell: Lady’s Island Oyster Company has transformed South Carolina’s oyster industry, partnering with South Carolina Sea Grant to build the state’s only oyster hatchery. Estuaries filled with salt water from the Atlantic nurture the oysters, providing millions of juvenile oysters to other farmers and making aquaculture a multi-million dollar industry in South Carolina.
  • Leading hatchery in Gulf of Mexico​:  As a large commercial shellfish provider in the southeast, Bay Shellfish Company produces several hundred million juvenile hard clams, bay scallops and other shellfish annually as seed stock. Innovations in farming also help to restore wild shellfish populations. Shown here, hatchery-released young scallops seek homes on grass blades in Tampa Bay. 
  • Family farm produces 55 million pounds annually: With 11,000 acres along the Washington and British Columbia coasts, Taylor Shellfish Farms produces 55 million pounds of oysters and mussels annually. Founded in 1890, and with hatcheries in California, Washington and Hawaii, it is the largest farmed shellfish supplier in the United States. Farmers use a mix of techniques, including oyster cages and mussel rafts.
  • Iconic seafood farmed in California: Abalone is an iconic California seafood, commercially available only through aquaculture. In Santa Barbara County, The Cultured Abalone Farm fills this need in a land-based hatchery where seawater is pumped through tanks, producing about 70, 000 pounds of abalone each year. The abalone feed on seaweed harvested from kelp beds or cultured in tanks.
  • Farming in ancient Hawaiian fishponds: Kualoa Ranch farms in an ancient Hawaiian fishpond. Among the oldest forms of aquaculture, Hawaiian fishponds were built with stonewalls to keep fish in, yet allow water to flow back and forth to the sea. New aquaculture techniques paired with culturally-important sites produce over 3,000 Pacific Oysters and 15,000 Pacific White Shrimp each year.
  • Raising oysters in Alaska: Jakolof Bay Oyster Co., located south of Anchorage, is part of a growing trend to farm shellfish and seaweed in Alaska. While surviving the cold is a challenge, the hardiest oysters thrive in the long summer daylight and pristine waters where 20-foot tides churn warm currents with icy runoff from glacier fields, creating an algae-rich area for aquaculture.

As a global leader in sustainable fisheries, the United States has a compelling story to share.

Increasingly, aquaculture is a vital part of this story.

NOAA’s pioneering techniques and technologies are at the forefront of domestic and global aquaculture. 

NOAA models safe, sustainable and environmentally and economically viable ways to feed the world and, in turn, champions America’s steadily growing aquaculture industry, passing our nation’s proud fishing heritage on to new generations that farm in water.


Hawaiian Kampachi fish.
Hawaiian Kampachi fish. (With permission from Blue Ocean Mariculture)


To view the original story map of "Farming in water", please also see this version on the ESRI website. offsite link