A socio-environmental approach to improve offshore aquaculture and policy: gulf of Mexico case study
Aquaculture is the world’s fastest-growing food sector, and the United States contains untapped potential for enhancing domestic food production. Marine aquaculture (“mariculture”) exists in state jurisdictions nationwide, but no finfish mariculture operations currently exist in federal waters, the region we define as offshore aquaculture. Due to conflicting interests, the federal government has failed to pass regulations that would allow the establishment of mariculture facilities in federal waters. We propose a multidisciplinary approach to inform mariculture sites by developing an offshore aquaculture site suitability model that accounts for community vulnerability and a site-specific social-ecological scorecard that evaluates ecosystem and community metrics for the Gulf of Mexico, a region prioritized for U.S. finfish aquaculture. We will accompany the spatial model with biophysical and social data to provide a flexible framework applicable to various localities. This model will focus on a region determined by a thematic analysis of publicly available news articles, policy documents, and public comments to determine perceptions of offshore aquaculture. Furthermore, we will develop a spatial assessment of community vulnerability using metrics developed by NOAA and commercial finfish landings from the Gulf’s federal waters to identify communities that are most vulnerable to aquaculture’s potential interference with fisheries' livelihoods. Our project aims to fill knowledge gaps for offshore aquaculture siting and provide information that policy-makers may use to address the concerns raised by stakeholders, paving the way for an integrated, socio-environmental aquaculture regulatory system.