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Cages for fish farming in marine areas far from the coasts.

Study shows that oceanic aquaculture has great potential in the Caribbean

Click on the flag for more information about United States UNITED STATES
Saturday, January 12, 2019, 02:50 (GMT + 9)

A team of researchers at UC Santa Barbara’s Bren School of Environmental Science & Management and the Marine Science Institute (MSI) think that offshore aquaculture in the Caribbean has great development potential.

The team focused specifically on offshore mariculture, operations done far from shore, because it offers a promising alternative to land-based and coastal aquaculture, where space is limited and environmental impacts are often high.

The researchers’ model predicts the region could produce 40 million metric tonnes of seafood in less than 1.5 percent of its countries’ exclusive economic zones.

Under current market conditions, the Caribbean could match its current seafood production by farming in just 179 square kilometers, equivalent to only a 0.006 percent of its marine space.

Tyler Clavelle and Lennon Thomas (Photo: Lennon Thomas)

 “The Caribbean has a large potential for off-shore mariculture,” said Lennon Thomas, the study’s lead author, “and meeting this potential can be accomplished by developing mariculture in a relatively small amount of ocean space,” he added.

The team used cobia as the project`s model species to estimate the Caribbean’s potential for commercial mariculture. Cobia is a premium fish with high market value that is well suited to farming in warmer waters.


Cobias inside a spherical cage farm

The scientists combined elements like fish growth and habitat suitability with factors such as farm profitability and investment risk, and this model provided more realistic estimates of mariculture potential than if it had focused solely on biology or economics.

The team considered socioeconomic and political factors to estimate the risk levels associated with investing in mariculture in each of the countries in the region, and came up with three scenarios.


Mariculture occurs in large nets like those at this kampachi, or Almaco jack, farm in Kona.(Photo Credit: LENNON THOMAS)

The first considered the results of farming in all suitable areas. The second considered only areas that would be profitable over a 10-year timeframe, at a 10-percent discount rate, and the third mirrored the second, but with discount rates between 10 and 25 percent, based on the relative risk of investment estimated for each country.

According to Tyler Clavelle, a researcher at MSI, this new study is one of the first to analyze mariculture potential from a bio-economic angle at a regional level. This gave the group a better understanding of the tradeoffs when developing farms in different areas within and across countries.

Areas suitable for cobia mariculture appear in red on the map on the left. The map to the right depicts the researchers' most conservative estimates of how much seafood each region could produce, according to scenario three.(Photo Credit: LENNON THOMAS)

“Even accounting for the economics of an expensive operation like cobia farming, there are large areas of the Caribbean that could be profitable for off-shore aquaculture,” said Clavelle. “Trinidad and Tobago and the Bahamas have the largest potential, with roughly 8,500 and 4,100 square kilometers, respectively, of area profitable for mariculture,” he explained.

The team analyzed specifically at cobia production in the Caribbean, but they explained that the model could also be applied to other species and regions.

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