A new study led by scientists at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science found minimal environmental impacts to the surrounding waters from a major commercial fish-farming operation off the coast of Panama.
According to the announcement, researchers collected water samples at one upstream and three downstream locations from the submerged fish cages to investigate if significant or cumulative impacts resulted from locating fish farms offshore. Sediment samples were also collected to evaluate the effects of the aquaculture facility on the seafloor.
The data revealed that only small amounts of nutrients were released from the farm and demonstrated that when appropriately sited, commercially scaled offshore aquaculture installations have the potential to operate in a way that produces a relatively small pollution footprint, the University of Miami said.
“We must produce 30 million metric tons of seafood to keep up with human population growth and increasing consumption of seafood — and the open ocean appears to be the best, if not the only, environment that would allow for this expansion,” said lead author Dr. Aaron Welch, who conducted the study while a graduate student at the Rosenstiel School and University of Miami Abess Center. “Showing that this can be done without incurring a large footprint is something we will all benefit from. It’s a very relevant milestone to assist in developing offshore aquaculture in the Unites States.”
The fish farm 13 km off the coast of Panama analyzed in this study houses 22 prism-shaped cages in waters 55-65 m deep and produces more than 1,400 mt of fish per year, Welch said.
“This study is of great interest to all stakeholders concerned with the expansion of offshore aquaculture in the United States and other countries,” said co-author Daniel Benetti, a professor in the department or marine ecosystems and society and director of aquaculture at the Rosenstiel School. “To our knowledge, this is the first report of its kind from a commercially scaled aquaculture facility utilizing offshore submersible cage technologies.”
The study was conducted to evaluate the impacts of organic and inorganic pollution from offshore fish farming -- one of the major concerns raised in relation to commercial aquaculture production, the announcement said.
“This research shows that seafood production for human consumption can be produced in the offshore environment with relatively low environmental impact compared to other production methods,” Benetti said.
The study, titled “The Nutrient Footprint of a Submerged-Cage Offshore Aquaculture Facility Located in the Tropical Caribbean,” was recently published in the Journal of the World Aquaculture Society. The study’s authors include Aaron W. Welch, Sharein El Tourky, Zachary Daugherty, Gary Hitchcock and Daniel Benetti of the Rosenstiel School and Angela N. Knapp of Florida State University.
The study received support from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration Marine Fisheries Initiative and Sea Grant Aquaculture Research Program.