Is There Social Acceptability for the Expansion of Aquatic Farming? – Earn Charter

This blog is part of a series called AquaCurious, which discusses important and popular topics related to finfish aquaculture in the U.S.

It is a blisteringly hot summer day in South Florida, but inside the seafood market, it’s chilly. I’m standing across from a display case filled with jumbo shrimp, tuna steaks, and five different kinds of white fish. Between each tray of seafood, the fishmonger has placed whole snappers, nestled into the crushed ice, their shiny red scales and bulging eyes reflected in the glass.

I am here because I’m hoping to talk to the owner about seafood. Specifically, farmed seafood.

Aquatic farming (formally referred to as “aquaculture”) has existed in some shape or form for thousands of years. However, commercial aquaculture is a relatively new industry, arising in the latter half of the twentieth century. Here in the U.S. aquatic farming is a fairly small sector of the agricultural economy, relatively speaking, though one that is rapidly expanding.

Whether it’s growing tomatoes in your backyard or farming salmon fifty miles offshore, the production of food has environmental, social, and economic impacts. Because there are many ways in which aquaculture can expand (e.g., more farm locations, new cultivated species, new gear types, different purposes), we are presented with a spectrum of potential impacts.

This spectrum has led to many different ideas and opinions surrounding the future of aquaculture and what it could and should entail. Although some of these opinions and ideas are captured in public comments and discourse, many stakeholders have not been as vocal or public-facing but are equally as important. As a scientist, I am interested in understanding these perspectives, particularly among the communities and sectors that are likely to be most affected by the expansion of marine aquaculture.

Over a year, with support from my Florida Sea Grant fellowship and collaboration with NOAA’s Southeast Fisheries Science Center, I will be traveling with Dr. Adriane Michaelis, an assistant professor at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, to nearly two dozen coastal communities throughout the Gulf of Mexico and Southern California, conducting hundreds of interviews and focus groups with commercial and recreational fishermen, seafood wholesalers and retailers, government officials, environmental organizations and the general public.

We will ask people about their knowledge and opinions of aquaculture, particularly what they think about it expanding in or close to their community. We want to know about their familiarity with the local aquaculture industry; what their concerns may be or any benefits they anticipate if aquaculture were to expand; and the types of aquaculture (e.g., particular species, locations, methods, purpose) they may or may not support and why.

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