Oceans: NOAA report offers guides for sustainable aquaculture

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Fish farms can be operated sustainably with good planning and best management practices, according to NOAA.

Good safeguards can help minimize environmental impacts

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Despite reported environmental problems reported with existing aquaculture operations, federal scientists say coastal fish farming can be done minimal or no harm to the coastal ocean environment.

The new report by researchers at NOAA’s National Ocean Service finds that water quality impacts are limited to slightly raised levels of nitrogen and phosphorus within a few hundred feet of aquaculture facilites, but that impacts can be limited with good planning and environmental safeguards.

The study evaluated the environmental effects of finfish aquaculture, including interactions with water quality, benthic habitats, and marine life across various farming practices and habitat types.

“We did this study because of concerns that putting marine finfish farms in the coastal ocean could have adverse effects on the environment,” said Dr. James Morris, NCCOS ecologist. “We found that, in cases where farms are appropriately sited and responsibly managed, impacts to the environment are minimal to non-existent.”

The report acknowledges that discharge of organic nutrients remains a concern, because it can affect organisms living on the seabed below the enclosed pens used to raise fish.

Siting fish farms away from shallow, enclosed, coastal and near-shore waters, and using best management practices for feeding and farm management are the keys to sustainable operations, according to the report.

“This report provides coastal and farm managers with a global perspective on a range of potential environmental effects and their relative intensity,” said Dr. 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.”

In the report, scientists said that continued development of regional best-management practices and standardized protocols for environmental monitoring are key needs for aquaculture managers. As aquaculture development increases in the coastal ocean, the ability to forecast immediate or long-term environmental concerns will provide confidence to coastal managers and the public.

“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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