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Explainer: What is Industrial Aquaculture?

This guest blog was written in partnership with the Don’t Cage Our Oceans (DCO2).  DCO2 is a coalition of diverse organizations working together to stop the development of offshore finfish farming in the United States through federal law, policies, and coalition building. DCO2 uplifts values-based seafood systems led by local communities. Learn more about NFSN’s work at:



Industrial aquaculture facilities (fish farms) can be considered the “factory farms” of the sea, posing similar environmental and economic threats to the local ecosystem and community.

Fish farms threaten recreationally and commercially important wild fish stocks. As in land-based industrial livestock operations, industrially farmed fish are densely stocked in pens, with the primary difference being that these are floating in water. Some fish are farmed in freshwater or in inland ponds; others are raised in an offshore or open ocean environment.

Pollution is a significant concern, particularly with open water operations,[1] as uneaten feed, medication, and excrement enters the ecosystem in high volume, causing chemical and nutrient imbalance, algal blooms, and hypoxia, or so-called “dead zones.”

State jurisdiction overfishing laws extends three miles offshore. Alaska has banned commercial finfish farming within its three-mile state limit. Federal waters extend from three to 200 miles offshore, regulated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). All 35 coastal and Great Lakes states and territories (except Alaska) participate in the National Coastal Zone Management Program (NCZMP), in which each state or territory administers its own coastal management plan under NOAA’s guidance and approval. Each state’s management plan provides consistency between federal and state agency decision making for the coastal region, and local governments rely on the plans to make decisions impacting a coastal area. State policymakers can communicate with their NCZMP administering agencies that industrial aquaculture does not belong in federal waters.

Check out the below explainer video from Don’t Cage Our Oceans here that discusses the risks with the industrial aquaculture, who is behind industrial aquaculture expansion and what states policymakers can do to protect local and independent fisheries.

For more information and resources visit the Blueprint for Rural Policy Action in the States. 

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