A Framework for Assessing Sustainability of Marine Aquaculture Operations

Monday, February 18, 2013
Room 310 (Hynes Convention Center)
Barry Costa-Pierce , University of New England, Biddeford, ME
Ecological aquaculture is an alternative model of aquaculture development that uses ecological principles as the organizing paradigm for the development of sustainable aquaculture. Ecological aquaculture farms are “aquaculture ecosystems” designed to deliver both economic and social profit. The emerging field of ecological aquaculture recognizes that the implementation of more sustainable food production systems requires additional knowledge about how ecosystems are utilized, and how conflicts among social groups are addressed. A baseline of responses to social-ecological changes is the foundation for the implementation of more sustainable aquaculture ecosystems. The use of sustainability science in aquaculture marks the path toward encouraging a long-term perspective and an appreciation of the roles played not only by ecologists but also by civil societies, markets, and governments in adapting to new food systems and concomitant ecosystems change. We have developed a sustainability science approach to aquaculture which steps above the cacophony of "watch card" approaches and assists in developing a common language for sustainable aquaculture. Our approach is based upon the development of a baseline that has two parts and follows with a sequence of five steps. The first part is an ecosystem audit that defines the natural and social systems within which aquaculture is planned. The second part designs a new aquaculture program, or adapts an on-going program to address the social-ecological management issues of a place in terms of economic, environmental, and societal benefits. Five steps encompass the essential parts of our baselining process: (1) Define the sustainability issues. Aquaculture systems can use environmentally derived feeds, water, and energy, occupy land and water space, and generate wastes. There are at least eight issues of wide public and regulatory concern for aquaculture expansion. (2) Complete a sustainability assessment of these issues by evaluating current aquaculture practices and impacts on natural and social resource systems, including an assessment of nested governance systems. (3) Complete a detailed risk analyses for all components of assessments. (4) Complete a plan for ameliorating identified impacts by incorporation of better (or best) practices and/or enhancing reuse or recycling pathways, and (5) Complete a plan for communicating the evolution of operations towards greater stewardship and sustainability.