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What is Aquaculture?

Aquaculture, often referred to as fish farming, is the art, science and business of cultivating aquatic animals (including finfish, molluscs, crustaceans) and plants in fresh or marine waters.


The NOAA Marine Aquaculture Initiative is a commitment by NOAA to meet its responsibilities for environmental stewardship and economic development of the nation’s living marine resources in the 21st century. Through NOAA’s investment in aquaculture, we hope to establish an environmentally sustainable, profitable offshore aquaculture industry in the U.S. and the Caribbean that will alleviate stress on natural fish stocks, create thousands of jobs, provide healthy protein to Americans at a reasonable cost, improve food safety and security, and address our nation’s trade deficit.


NOAA has a strong statutory basis for promotion and regulation of marine aquaculture under the National Aquaculture Act of 1980. NOAA Research supports technology development for the U.S. industry in many areas, including offshore and recirculating marine systems, growout technology, feeds and nutrition, disease control, food processing, marketing, policy and regulation, and environmental technologies to meet water quality standards. NOAA Research investments, particularly through the National Sea Grant College Program have helped establish scores of new businesses throughout the nation and provided technologies to these businesses.

Why is Aquaculture Important?

In the United States, our appetite for seafood has kept pace with our population growth, which has grown from 151 million to 283 million in just 50 years. Our nation currently imports over 60% of its seafood, resulting in a trade deficit of more than $7 billion annually (ranking second to oil among natural products being imported). At the same time, many valuable fish species are disappearing from our oceans through over harvest, loss of habitat and pollution. As our most important fisheries are collapsing, fishermen and seafood processors are forced out of business.

How can the U.S. reduce its dependence on wild fish, help save depleted stocks and address our growing demand for seafood? The answer may lie in aquaculture, particularly marine offshore aquaculture (fish are raised in fully enclosed cages stationed below the surface of the water in an open ocean area, far from the fragile coastal environment). Recent technological advances are making this an increasingly safe, profitable and environmentally sustainable industry.

Priority Areas

  • Culture System Technology Development: Marine aquaculture operations involve three distinct environments, each with unique challenges: the nearshore/coastal region; the Exclusive Economic Zone seafloor; and the open ocean surface and water column.
  • Nutrition and Feeds: Research and development efforts must evaluate feed components and alternative protein sources.
  • Genetics of Cultured Species: Research must identify gene complexes responsible for reproduction, growth and disease resistance.
  • Health and Disease: A need exists to better understand the immune system of marine organisms and to improve diagnostic capabilities for aquatic pathogens and parasites.
  • Stock Enhancement: The potential for rebuilding collapsed wild fish stocks through aquaculture must be fully explored.
  • Public Policy and Law: Agencies involved with aquaculture must partner with environmentalists, universities, industry and citizens to establish a viable industry based upon a sound understanding of the ecosystem and economy.

National Benefits

Within the past five years NOAA's National Sea Grant College Program has conducted aquaculture research, education and outreach activities that have resulted in:

  • Groundbreaking studies that have enabled controlled spawning of fish species that could not be cultured previously, including hybrid striped bass, cobia, mutton and red snapper, flounder and moi.
  • Improved feeds for shrimp and fish and treatments using seaweeds are being used to control negative impacts from wastewater discharges.
  • Commercial-scale growout of cobia and moi fishes in offshore cages accomplished in partnership with universities and industry.


NOAA and Department of Commerce Aquaculture Policy

In 1997, NOAA and the Department of Commerce developed a NOAA/DOC aquaculture policy that was signed by the Secretary of Commerce in 1999. This policy outlines the DOC vision for U.S. Aquaculture and DOC's Aquaculture Mission.

NOAA Research programs that study Aquaculture:

National Sea Grant College Program



Additional Related Information:

Sea Grant aquaculture projects

NOAA Library (offers a wealth of aquaculture links and resources)

Aquaculture Network Information Center (a clearninghouse for aquaculture information)

Sea Grant Project Search (search the Sea Grant database for aquaculture projects that have been funded)

NOAA Fisheries Aquaculture Page (links to the NOAA organization responsible for fisheries regulation, including aquaculture)

NOAA Research Spotlight from the Spotlight Archives: An Alga a Day Keeps the Doctor Away -- Engineered Algae as a New Means to Vaccinate Fish


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