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If Managed Properly, Coastal Fish Farms Can be Sustainable: NOAA

Dec 21, 2013 10:20 AM EST

As long as coastal fish farms are appropriately located and managed properly, their presence leads to minimal-to-no harm to the coastal ocean environment, according to a new report issued by NOAA's National Ocean Service.

The study focuses on coastal finfish farms. The term finfish is used to distinguish the farm's product as true fish, as the term fish is often used in the fisheries industry as a collective term for mollusks, crustaceans or other harvested aquatic animals.

After analyzing findings and recommendations from more than 420 academic papers, NOAA compiled the Marine Cage Culture & The Environment report. The report provides a broad view of the finfish aquaculture industry, with a specific focus on water quality, the chemical balance of seawater and sediments around fisheries and the finfish farms' effect on marine life and ecosystems.

The report comes at a time when there is a growing demand for seafood on the consumer market, which wild catch fisheries cannot sustain, the study authors write.

"This report provides coastal and farm managers with a global perspective on a range of potential environmental effects and their relative intensity," said Michael Rubino, director of NOAA Fisheries Office of Aquaculture. "It is a tool that can be used when evaluating proposed or operational farming sites and gives them a factual basis to make decisions."

The research highlights the need for standardized monitoring protocol and environmental monitoring techniques, which aquaculture managers can use to ensure their operations are sustainable.

Among the concerns the report addresses are the likely increase of coastal finfish farms over time and the long-term environmental concerns that come with their proliferation.

But the authors contend that the industry can continue to grow sustainably as long as the best-practice standards are met.

"This report contributes to the growing body of evidence supporting marine aquaculture as a sustainable source of safe, healthy and local seafood that supports jobs in coastal communities," said Sam Rauch, acting assistant NOAA administrator for NOAA Fisheries.

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