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Mapping the global potential for marine aquaculture

Nature Ecology & Evolutionvolume 1pages13171324 (2017) | Download Citation


Marine aquaculture presents an opportunity for increasing seafood production in the face of growing demand for marine protein and limited scope for expanding wild fishery harvests. However, the global capacity for increased aquaculture production from the ocean and the relative productivity potential across countries are unknown. Here, we map the biological production potential for marine aquaculture across the globe using an innovative approach that draws from physiology, allometry and growth theory. Even after applying substantial constraints based on existing ocean uses and limitations, we find vast areas in nearly every coastal country that are suitable for aquaculture. The development potential far exceeds the space required to meet foreseeable seafood demand; indeed, the current total landings of all wild-capture fisheries could be produced using less than 0.015% of the global ocean area. This analysis demonstrates that suitable space is unlikely to limit marine aquaculture development and highlights the role that other factors, such as economics and governance, play in shaping growth trajectories. We suggest that the vast amount of space suitable for marine aquaculture presents an opportunity for countries to develop aquaculture in a way that aligns with their economic, environmental and social objectives.

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This research was conducted by the Open-Ocean Aquaculture Expert Working Group supported by the Science for Nature and People Partnership—a partnership of The Nature Conservancy, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (proposal SNP015). The conclusions drawn in this manuscript do not necessarily reflect those of the author-associated organizations or their agencies. S.D.G. and R.R.G. acknowledge support from the Waitt Foundation. The authors thank R. Naylor and M. Velings for comments on an early draft of the manuscript.

Author information


  1. Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, University of California Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA, 93106, USA

    • Rebecca R. Gentry
    • , Steven D. Gaines
    •  & Benjamin S. Halpern
  2. National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, University of California, 735 State Street Suite 300, Santa Barbara, CA, 93101, USA

    • Halley E. Froehlich
    •  & Benjamin S. Halpern
  3. The Nature Conservancy, B4–2 Qijiayuan Diplomatic Compound, 9 Jianwai Dajie, Chaoyang District, 100600, Beijing, China

    • Dietmar Grimm
  4. Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, 90095, USA

    • Peter Kareiva
  5. Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 1845 Wasp Boulevard, Building 176, Honolulu, HI, 96818, USA

    • Michael Parke
  6. Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD, 20910, USA

    • Michael Rust
  7. Imperial College London, Silwood Park Campus, Buckhurst Road, Ascot, SL5 7PY, UK

    • Benjamin S. Halpern


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B.S.H. and R.R.G. conceived the initial study. R.R.G., H.E.F. and B.S.H. developed the research and methodology with critical input and insight from D.G., P.K, M.P., M.R. and S.D.G. R.R.G. and H.E.F. collected and analysed the data. All authors interpreted the results and implications. R.R.G., H.E.F., B.S.H. and S.D.G. produced the figures. R.R.G. drafted the manuscript with significant input and revisions from all authors.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Rebecca R. Gentry.

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