We must plant the sea and herd its animals using the sea as farmers instead of hunters. That is what civilization is all about – farming replacing hunting.

Jacques Cousteau (1910-1997)

Celebrating the FAO Ecosystems Approach to Aquaculture, Mallorca, Spain

What is Ecological Aquaculture? 

 Ecological aquaculture is a transdisciplinary area of scholarship and practice – a “pracademic” – that combines the social-ecological wisdom of aquafarming and fishing peoples with the science knowledge of aquatic ecosystems to provide economic, environmental, and social profits from seafoods to Humanity. Ecological aquaculture is “team science” that develops social-ecological partnerships of scientists working with fishermen, farmers, and civil society. Ecological aquaculture with BCP

Ecological aquaculture is an “alternative path” that demonstrates profitable production but also for the multiple sources of social-ecological revenues possible from aquaculture ecosystems.

Ecological aquaculture incorporates the knowledge – and power – of ecological design, ecological engineering, and ecological approaches to governance – to implement and then evolve – more sustainable aquaculture businesses and family farms at the bioregional scale.

Ecological aquaculture not only produces high quality aquatic foods essential for human health and longevity but also produces innovations and knowledge to build the “culture of aquaculture”.

Where is it important?

That aquaculture has a philosophical base in the East and a scientific base in the West has far-reaching implications. In the East, it is culture, it is life: culture to improve life by providing food and employment. It is embedded in the social and economic infrastructure. All that science can and must do is to make this culture more effective. In the West, aquaculture is science and technology, embodied in industry and providing profits: money. It has no social infrastructure. In this, the West has much to learn from the East.

Elizabeth Mann Borgese. 1980. Seafarm, The Story of Aquaculture. H.N. Abrams.

Ecological aquaculture is most important in areas of the world where aquatic foods are the most important sources of animal proteins.

Ecological aquaculture is also vitally important to areas of the world where commercial aquaculture is not historically important, but is expanding.

Is Ecological Aquaculture new?

The Blue Revolution? Ecological Aquaculture? These are NOT new concepts. There have been many “Blue Revolutions” throughout human history. Our ancestors used the concepts of ecological aquaculture to develop many sustainable models of aquaculture ecosystems throughout human history (and, “her-story” – gender issues are vitally important to evolve ecological aquaculture) (2010, Mar. Tech. Soc. Jor.).

Whenever the seafood demands of seafood-eating peoples have exceeded the ability of natural, aquatic ecosystems to provide adequate supplies of seafoods for them, they have developed aquaculture.

What IS new is that we now have 7 billion people on Mother Earth with forecasts of upwards of 9 billion inhabitants here by 2050. Many of these people choose to eat seafoods as their major sources of animal protein. The real debate over the future of aquaculture is not whether aquaculture will grow, but how it will grow.

And we can direct this blue revolution to make aquaculture a global model of sustainable protein production, one that ties its destiny to the “triple bottom line” of producing not only economic, but also social and environmental profits.

We have to ask…

Can we accelerate the pace of transdisciplinary scholarship in aquaculture – fundamental to developing the ecosystems approach to aquaculture we are calling for – and then witness an expansion in the scope and numbers of profitable aquaculture businesses, at all scales of society, connected closely to capture fisheries and the seafood economy to expand the “social contract” for aquaculture development?

Can we evolve alternative, ecological aquaculture development models for a crowded Planet that are not only more environmentally compatible but also more just, fair, and equitable such that they clearly benefit many segments of society…to the point that…some parts of society identify themselves as “aquaculture communities” who celebrate these innovative aquatic farming ecosystems, rather than denigrating their presence, and fighting every proposal for their expansion?

There are now a few thousand of us worldwide who are implementing ecological aquaculture to develop a new social contract for aquaculture. This “alternative path” of aquaculture is being used to evolve a whole new generation of aquaculture ecosystems that produce not only higher economic benefits, but also increased social and environmental profit due to the multiple benefits they provide not only to the economy, but also to ecosystems and societies.

Costa-Pierce, 2011. Keynote Talk at the international conference on “Marine Resources and Beyond”, IMARE GmbH, Bremerhaven, Germany, October 2011

Ecological Aquaculture is the Only Way to Save The World’s Last and Most Spectacular Terrestrial Ecosystems, Preserves and Natural Areas from Complete Destruction by Agriculture

By 2050 global food production will need to rise by 70% as the world’s population is expected to reach 9 billion.

There are severe resource limits to expanding terrestrial food production.

If humanity plans to expand traditional, terrestrial farming across the globe to feed the future, the world will face a terrible conservation crisis.

Less than 1% of human foods come from the ocean.

Innovative approaches are needed to develop new, ocean food production systems that do not separate but combine capture fisheries and aquaculture, but do not destroy or compromise the resilience of marine ecosystems.

By developing – fully – cooperative research and team science – and using the “aquaculture toolbox” we can not only produce adequate seafoods for future humanity and also support the restoration of capture fisheries while protecting and enhancing marine ecosystems, plus also redevelop the world’s working waterfronts as premier examples of the “blue-green economy”.


Ecological aquaculture and the ecosystems approach to aquaculture will enhance humanity’s responsibility to better steward ocean ecosystems while also feeding the future world with nutrient-dense foods essential for human health and wellness.

Costa-Pierce. 2013. Invited Lecture, Bren School, University of California Santa Barbara, April 5, 2013

  View a lengthy lecture on Ecological Aquaculture by BCP at the University of Maine Margaret Chase Smith Center


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