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The ecological and economic potential for offshore mariculture in the Caribbean

Nature Sustainabilityvolume 2pages6270 (2019) | Download Citation


Offshore mariculture could enable increased seafood production and economic development while alleviating pressure on coastal ecosystems and wild fisheries. In the Caribbean, however, an integrated assessment of the ecological and economic potential for mariculture in the region is lacking. We assess site suitability and develop a spatial bioeconomic model to predict yields and profits for offshore cobia (Rachycentron canadum) mariculture across 30 jurisdictions in the Caribbean. We find that (1) approximately 1.4% of the study area may be technically feasible; (2) the model could avoid conflicts with other uses and sensitive habitats and protected areas; and (3) the model could be economically profitable, with the potential to produce almost half the amount of seafood that is currently harvested from wild fisheries globally. Here, we show that potential farm-scale production and profitability vary across and within countries and that accounting for the foreign investment risk associated with a country will impact estimated farm profitability.

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Funding for the project was provided by the Waitt Foundation. We thank C. Costello for his advice and input on our economic model; J. Afflerbach for support in conducting spatial analysis and mapping; R. Gentry for her help in developing suitability analysis methods; E. Ruff for her research on aquaculture policy in the Caribbean; and J. Flower for his Caribbean expertise and help with ground-truthing data. S.E.L. acknowledges support from the National Science Foundation under grant no. 1759559.

Author information


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

    • Lennon R. Thomas
    •  & Tyler Clavelle
  2. Center on Food Security and the Environment, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA

    • Dane H. Klinger
  3. Department of Geography, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL, USA

    • Sarah E. Lester


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All authors contributed to research design and interpretation of results, and provided supporting information for the project. The TPC modelling was conducted by D.K., the suitability analysis and economic model was conducted by T.C. and L.T., and L.T., S.L. and T.C. wrote the paper.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Lennon R. Thomas.

Supplementary information

  1. Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Figures 1–3, Supplementary Tables 1–7, Supplementary References 1–31

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