What is Aquaculture

Aquaculture -- also known as fish or shellfish farming -- refers to the breeding, rearing, and harvesting of plants and animals in all types of water environments including ponds, rivers, lakes, and the ocean. Researchers and aquaculture producers are farming all kinds of freshwater and marine species of fish and shellfish. Aquaculture produces food fish, sport fish, bait fish, ornamental fish, crustaceans, mollusks, algae, sea vegetables, and fish eggs.


Approximately half the seafood eaten worldwide – including in the United States – is farm-raised. Because harvest from many wild fisheries has peaked globally, aquaculture is widely recognized as an effective way to meet the seafood demands of a growing population. As a result, aquaculture is the fastest growing form of food production in the world.

Marine Vs. Freshwater Aquaculture

Hatchery Fish

Researchers and the aquaculture industry are farming all kinds of freshwater and marine species of fish and shellfish.

  • Marine aquaculture refers to raising species that live in the ocean, including oysters, clams, mussels, shrimp, and salmon.
  • Freshwater aquaculture produces species that are native to rivers, lakes, and streams, such as trout, catfish, tilapia, and bass.

Aquaculture Techniques and technologies

Modern oyster farming in New England

They use a number of different techniques and technologies to raise these species:

  • Pond culture – one or many earthen ponds are used to culture freshwater fish, shrimp, and some marine species.
  • Cage culture – enclosed cages are submerged in aquatic environments to grow finfish. Careful protocols and monitoring help to minimize potential interactions with the environment.
  • Recirculating systems – fish, shellfish, and/or plant life are raised in “closed-loop” production systems that continuously filter and recycle water and waste.
  • Integrated multi-trophic aquaculture – several species are raised together in a way that allows one species’ by-products to be recycled as feed for another species.
  • Integrated agriculture and aquaculture –ponds or recirculating systems are used to raise both seafood and other organisms (for example, fish and lettuce).
  • Shellfish farming techniques include grow-out in bags placed in the tidelands, suspended culture, and “rack and bag” grow-out, among others.

Other uses For Aquaculture

Native Olympia oysters in natural habitat in Puget Sound

Aquaculture has other uses besides supplying seafood. It can be used to:

  • Restore habitat.
  • Enhance wild fish stocks such as salmon.
  • Produce baitfish.
  • Rebuild populations of threatened and endangered species.
  • Culture fish for zoos and aquariums.
  • Produce plant species for use in a range of food, pharmaceutical, nutritional, and biotechnology products.

Impacts of Aquaculture

Farming oysters in California

Sustainable marine aquaculture has many benefits. For example, aquaculture creates employment and business opportunities in coastal communities, provides safe and sustainable seafood, and supports marine fish populations and habitats.

Like any human activity, aquaculture can impact the environment, which is why U.S. aquaculture operators adhere to strong environmental and food safety regulations. When practiced responsibly, aquaculture’s impact on wild fish and shellfish populations, marine habitats, and water quality is minimal. In fact, aquaculture can benefit the ecosystem – for example, oyster aquaculture creates habitat and enhances water quality. NOAA continues to work with our partners to develop innovative techniques and management practices that ensure we’re protecting our marine ecosystems as aquaculture production expands around the world.

For more information, visit the NOAA Fisheries Office of Aquaculture.