What Is Aquaculture?

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Aquaculture facility, Gulf Port, Mississippi. Source: NOAA.


The term aquaculture broadly refers to the cultivation of aquatic organisms in controlled aquatic environments for any commercial, recreational or public purpose. The breeding, rearing and harvesting of plants and animals takes place in all types of water environments including ponds, rivers, lakes, the ocean, and man-made “closed” systems on land.

Aquaculture serves many purposes including:

  • Food production for human consumption;
  • Rebuilding of populations of threatened and endangered species;
  • Habitat restoration;
  • Wild stock enhancement;
  • Production of baitfish; and
  • Fish culture for zoos and aquariums.

It is one of the fastest growing forms of food production in the world. Because harvest from many wild fisheries (Fisheries and aquaculture) has peaked globally, aquaculture is widely recognized as an effective way to meet the seafood demands of a growing population.

Figure caption: Aqua​ponica​: Fish​ (Aquaculture)​-Vegetable​ (Hydroponics)​Sustainable Twin Production System. A-B. Fish production (Aquaculture) ​under indoor conditions within fish tanks; C. Settling tank for fish waste water from fish tanks; D. Aquatic macrophytes grown on fish waste water and for reducing fish waste laod in the water under recycling; and E-F. Greenhouse vegetable production ​(Hydroponics) ​using aqua​ponics​principles on recycled fish waste water. Source: Saikat Basu, own work.

Mussel harvesting in Shelton, Wash. Source: NOAA. Click for larger image. Using aquaculture techniques and technologies, researchers and the aquaculture industry are “farming” all types of freshwater and marine species of fish and shellfish:

  • Marine aquaculture refers specifically to the culturing of oceanic species (as opposed to freshwater). Examples of marine aquaculture production include oysters, clams, mussels, shrimp, salmon and algae. Marine aquaculture is just 20 percent of U.S. production, consisting mostly of shellfish (e.g., oysters, clams and mussels).
  • Freshwater aquaculture includes trout, catfish and tilapia. About 70 percent of aquaculture in the United States is freshwater farming of catfish and trout. Only a handful of U.S. farms grow marine finfish such as salmon in Maine and Washington State and yellowtail and Pacific threadfin (moi) in Hawaii.

Longlines used for mussel aquaculture. Source: NOAA. Click for larger image. Aquaculture produces almost half of the seafood consumed by humans globally, a trend that continues to increase. The United States is a major consumer of aquaculture products — we import 84 percent of our seafood, and half of that is from aquaculture — yet we are a minor producer. In fact, U.S. aquaculture (both freshwater and marine) supplies about 5 percent of the U.S. seafood supply, and U.S. marine aquaculture supplies less than 1.5 percent.

It is vital that the United States further develop its own sustainable aquaculture industry, both to reduce its annual $9 billion annual seafood import deficit and to keep pace with the growing demand for seafood.

Learn more: NOAA’s Aquaculture Program is dedicated to fostering safe, sustainable aquaculture in collaboration with other NOAA offices including NOAA's Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research and NOAA’s National Ocean Service.

Editorial note: This article was written in collaboration with NOAA aquaculture expertDr. Michael Rubino, NOAA Aquaculture Program.

Posted Feb. 9, 2011


Syste, N. (2014). What Is Aquaculture?. Retrieved from http://editors.eol.org/eoearth/wiki/What_Is_Aquaculture?


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Bryan steopher wrote: 12-14-2011 23:02:05

Aquaculture and aquaculture systems play a very important role in increasing the produce. Various systems and machinery are used for this oceanic farming, and these instruments as a whole are known as aquaculture systems. http://www.whatisall.com/business-insight/what-is-aquaculture.html

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jharna thomas wrote: 03-21-2011 19:22:44

Aquaculture is the cultivation of freshwater and marine animals. It is supposed to have begun over 4000 years with farming freshwater carp in China. However, aquaculture is practiced worldwide, the production of many species of fish, crustaceans, algae and plants. A variety of methods of cultivation are used, depending on location and what is produced - from sea cages, ponds and reservoirs floating rope. Aquaculture currently produces half of the seafood in the world and is about to exceed wild fisheries as a source of fish. http://www.whatisguide.net/1230-aquaculture.html