Aquaculture 101 (sea) Farm to Table

Aquaculture is FEEDING THE FUTURE.

Wild-caught or farm-raised seafood? If it's caught or grown in the United States, we say both!

In the U.S., commercial aquaculture contributes to seafood supply by complementing wild fisheries. Aquaculture is the propagation and rearing of aquatic organisms for commercial purposes. It's a great way of maintaining healthy and productive marine populations, species, ecosystems and coastal communities, and is a priority for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Most marine aquaculture production in the U.S. consists of bivalve mollusks such as oysters, clams, and mussels, but advances in technology and management techniques are making new finfish and seaweed species, including American eels and kelp, available to consumers.

(Photo credit: Baxter Miller, North Carolina Sea Grant)


A sustainable seafood future includes farming of the sea.

In the U.S., marine aquaculture operates within one of the most comprehensive regulatory environments in the world. Projects in U.S. waters must meet a number of federal, state, and local regulations that ensure environmental protection, water quality, and healthy oceans.

Aquaculture can also be used to restore habitat and at-risk species; for example, hatchery stock is used to rebuild oyster reefs, grow wild fish populations, and rebuild populations of threatened and endangered species like abalone.

(Photo credit: Connecticut Sea Grant)

Aquaculture Provides JOBS.

Aquaculture contributes to economic activity in coastal communities and along working waterfronts in every coastal state. The U.S. produced $1.3 billion worth of aquaculture seafood in 2014, with the top marine aquaculture species being oysters ($169 million), clams ($121 million), and Atlantic salmon ($76 million).

The U.S. is a minor aquaculture producer on a global scale, but it is the leading global importer of fish and fishery products. By value, nearly 90% of the seafood we eat comes from abroad, half of it from aquaculture.

In the U.S., marine aquaculture production increased an average of about 3% per year from 2009-2014. Although a relatively small producer, the nation supplies advanced technology, feed, equipment, and investment capital around the world.

(Photo credit: Woods Hole Sea Grant)


Aquaculture operations can be found along the nation's coasts, oceans, and Great Lakes.

Since aquaculture activities and products vary by region, Sea Grant extension agents work in communities to support these activities and increase awareness of region-specific issues.

(Photo credit: Christopher Katalinas, National Sea Grant Office)


In Alaska, the preferred term for aquatic farming is mariculture, and includes the production of shellfish and seaweeds. Most operations are located along the coastline in either southeast or south-central Alaska.

Research from Alaska Sea Grant suggests that seaweed farming is a promising industry for the state. Alaska Sea Grant and partners have worked together to secure several grants to better understand various aspects of seaweed farming in Alaska.

(Photo credit: Christopher Katalinas, National Sea Grant Office)


Hawaiians have an extensive system of pond culture dating back more than 700 years. Hawaiian fishponds, or loko iʻa, are ancient aquaculture systems that are models of sustainable aquatic resource management based on long-term experience from traditional Native Hawaiian practices. In 1979, Hawai'i was the first U.S. state to implement an aquaculture development plan to provide research funding and critical support services to the industry.

Hawai'i Sea Grant is contributing to aquaculture efforts across the islands by providing cutting-edge research and technical training, as well as working with traditional knowledge holders

(Photo credit: Ka loko o Kīholo fishpond, Hawai'i Sea Grant)


Landings from marine aquaculture totaled approximately $219 million in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region in 2013, making aquaculture the third most valuable fishery in the region.

But beyond traditionally-grown mainstays such as Atlantic salmon and oysters, new types of crops (like kelp) and innovative technologies (such as integrated multi-trophic aquaculture systems) are taking root and providing new opportunities across the region.

(Photo credit: A pint of "Selkie", a beer brewed from sugar kelp, is the result of a partnership between New Hampshire Sea Grant and Portsmouth Brewery, Scott Ripley/UNH)


When it comes to the Southeast, bivalves are big. From the Carolinas to the Gulf, shellfish farming - particularly of oysters - is a relatively new and rapidly growing industry. In fact, as recently as 2009, there were no oyster farms in Alabama. In 2015, Georgia Sea Grant opened the first oyster hatchery in the state. In neighboring South Carolina, Sea Grant provided expertise and guidance to help get the Lady's Island Oyster hatchery operating and providing seed oysters to farmers in the state.

Though the shellfish aquaculture industry may be relatively new, there is much enthusiasm and collaboration happening throughout the region. Programs like Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant's Peer-to-Pier Fellowship and groups like Oyster South are helping farmers have the best chance for commercial success by creating opportunities for professional development, technical assistance, and training.

(Photo credit: Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium)


California and the Pacific Northwest have established shellfish aquaculture operations and strong demand for sustainable, local seafood products. Washington is the country's leading producer of farmed shellfish, and Washington Sea Grant has been involved in shellfish aquaculture research and outreach for over 40 years.

One of the major threats to West Coast shellfish aquaculture is changing ocean chemistry. Ocean acidification, the decrease in ocean water pH due to increased carbon dioxide absorption from the atmosphere, can affect the survival and growth of shellfish that build their shells from calcium carbonate. Sea Grant staff like Washington Sea Grant's Meg Chadsey work with shellfish farmers, scientists, and consumers to understand and address issues surrounding ocean acidification.

(Photo credit: Washington Sea Grant)

Great Lakes

Aquaculture doesn't only happen in the ocean! The bounty of America's heartland goes beyond the traditional yield of cows and corn. In the Great Lakes region, commercial aquaculture has a gross value of over $76 million and produces more than 50 species of fish. But challenges still remain in identifying and resolving factors constraining the industry, including technical issues such as efficient and economical production.

With Wisconsin Sea Grant support, Superior Fresh, LLC opened in 2017 as the largest aquaponics facility in the world and the first indoor recirculating aquaculture system in Wisconsin raising Atlantic salmon. The facility uses the same water in which the salmon are raised to grow vegetables - the nutrients from the fish water act as a natural fertilizer. The company estimates that at optimum operation, 160,000 pounds of fish will be produced annually and 30,000 heads of lettuce will be harvested each day.

(Photo credit: Superior Fresh, LLC)


Follow the conversation on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook using #SeaGrantSeafood and #SeafoodMonth.

Learn more about Sea Grant's work to support sustainable seafood and aquaculture at seagrant.noaa.gov/Our-Work/SFA.

Find a U.S. caught or raised seafood recipe for dinner tonight at www.pinterest.com/seagrant/.

Cover photo: Christopher Katalinas

Created By
Katherine O'Reilly

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