Global estimation of areas with suitable environmental conditions for mariculture species

Aquaculture has grown rapidly over the last three decades expanding at an average annual growth rate of 5.8% (2005–2014), down from 8.8% achieved between 1980 and 2010. The sector now produces 44% of total food fish production. Increasing demand and consumption from a growing global population are driving further expansion of both inland and marine aquaculture (i.e., mariculture, including marine species farmed on land). However, the growth of mariculture is dependent on the availability of suitable farming areas for new facilities, particularly for open farming practices that rely on the natural oceanic environmental parameters such as temperature, oxygen, chlorophyll etc. In this study, we estimated the marine areas within the exclusive economic zones of all countries that were suitable for potential open ocean mariculture activities. To this end, we quantify the environmental niche and inferred the global habitat suitability index (HSI) of the 102 most farmed marine species using four species distribution models. The average weighted HSI across the four models suggests that 72,000,000 km2 of ocean are to be environmentally suitable to farm one or more species. About 92% of the predicted area (66,000,000 km2) is environmentally suitable for farming finfish, 43% (31,000,000 km2) for molluscs and 54% (39,000,000 km2) for crustaceans. These predictions do not consider technological feasibility that can limit crustaceans farming in open waters. Suitable mariculture areas along the Atlantic coast of South America and West Africa appear to be most under-utilized for farming. Our results suggest that factors other than environmental considerations such as the lack of socio-economic and technological capacity, as well as aqua feed supply are currently limiting the potential for mariculture expansion in many areas.