The Potential for Offshore Aquaculture – If We Get it Right

Globally, as wild fisheries are being fished at or beyond sustainable levels, people are looking to aquaculture to meet demand for seafood. Aquaculture abroad and in the U.S. is expected to increase, presenting a real opportunity to provide access to more locally grown sustainable seafood while reducing the carbon footprint that comes with importing seafood from other parts of the world and strengthening domestic coastal economies.

In the U.S., the marine aquaculture industry is relatively small and focused on inland and nearshore waters. However, as industry, policymakers, and other stakeholders look to expand operations to offshore waters, we have an opportunity to get it right from the start. This will require science-driven policies for offshore aquaculture that safely and responsibly produce sustainable seafood without threatening the health of the ocean.

As chefs, our businesses rely on a consistent supply of seafood that is fished and farmed in environmentally responsible ways. An emerging U.S. aquaculture industry can help meet this need, but only if we take the time to do it right by learning from the experiences of other countries, conducting additional research and pilot projects, and developing effective U.S. policy to safely operate and manage offshore fish farms.

As congress considers measures to expand offshore aquaculture in the U.S., we are looking for science-based policies that will set appropriate standards for sustainability and support economic opportunities, including for historically disadvantaged communities.


About US Offshore Aquaculture

How much seafood comes from aquaculture?

Supplying half of all seafood consumed globally, aquaculture is the fastest-growing food production sector in the world. In the U.S. up to 85 percent of the seafood we eat is imported, and about half of that is farmed – often in countries without strong environmental standards.

Why is the US interested in expanding aquaculture?

The potential to leverage aquaculture as a new source of domestic seafood production is driving interest in expansion of the U.S. aquaculture industry. Done right, aquaculture can be a sustainable food production system that can support a range of U.S.-based social and economic benefits.

What is offshore aquaculture?

Offshore aquaculture offers new opportunities for American seafood production. U.S. offshore (EEZ) waters comprise 3 million square miles and have relatively fewer competing uses compared to coastal waters. These waters cover a huge geographic area, from tropical to Arctic waters, making it possible to farm a diversity of species. While it has big potential, U.S. offshore aquaculture must be done right to ensure environmental sustainability and other socio-economic benefits.

What are the risks of moving aquaculture offshore?

Aquaculture located in offshore waters will face different operating conditions and risks than coastal, freshwater, and land-based farms. Currently, there are very few examples of sustainable offshore aquaculture, but we can use  Seafood Watch assessments and emerging tools to identify knowledge gaps and risks for U.S. offshore aquaculture. For example, the consequences of fish escaping from pens or potential for spread of disease represent risks that could cause environmental damage and deserve further study and consideration. A careful, science-based approach is vital to the long-term success of offshore aquaculture. Additionally, the actual risk must be assessed based on its specific location, species, and farming methods.

How can the US mitigate those risks?

In recent decades, other nations have built large aquaculture industries – it is critical that we learn from these experiences. We must ensure that U.S. offshore aquaculture development proceeds carefully so that it mitigates environmental risks, creates new sustainable food options, and supports benefits for U.S. consumers and communities. This will require a comprehensive approach to ensure that any expansion of offshore aquaculture in the U.S.:

  • Produces sustainably grown seafood;
  • Creates new job opportunities and economic growth, including for historically disadvantaged communities; and
  • Establishes the U.S. as a global leader in sustainable aquaculture management.
Want to learn more? Check out these resources.
  • Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch is working with its partners to understand and address key risks of U.S. offshore aquaculture by ensuring it is informed by the best available science, tools, and strategies.
  • This new report shares information on the ecological risks posed by offshore aquaculture and how to mitigate them. Learn more about the report here.
  • NOAA’s Aquaculture Strategic Plan (2023-2028) lays out its framework for achieving a robust, thriving, and diverse U.S. aquaculture industry as part of a resilient seafood sector.
  • NOAA defines Aquaculture Opportunity Areas (AOAs) as geographic areas that have been evaluated to determine their potential suitability for commercial aquaculture. NOAA then uses a combination of scientific analysis and public engagement to identify areas within an AOA that may be environmentally, socially, and economically appropriate for commercial aquaculture.
“Aquaculture is the same as any other industrial farm. It allows us to feed a lot of people. That’s the positive. But we need to do so without impacting the environment or native and other populations.”

– Virginia Willis
Chef, Educator and Author