Is There Social Acceptability for the Expansion of Aquatic Farming?

This blog is part of a series called AquaCurious, which discusses important and popular topics related to finfish aquaculture in the U.S.

It is a blisteringly hot summer day in South Florida, but inside the seafood market, it’s chilly. I’m standing across from a display case filled with jumbo shrimp, tuna steaks, and five different kinds of white fish. Between each tray of seafood, the fishmonger has placed whole snappers, nestled into the crushed ice, their shiny red scales and bulging eyes reflected in the glass.

I am here because I’m hoping to talk to the owner about seafood. Specifically, farmed seafood.

Aquatic farming (formally referred to as “aquaculture”) has existed in some shape or form for thousands of years. However, commercial aquaculture is a relatively new industry, arising in the latter half of the twentieth century. Here in the U.S. aquatic farming is a fairly small sector of the agricultural economy, relatively speaking, though one that is rapidly expanding.

Whether it’s growing tomatoes in your backyard or farming salmon fifty miles offshore, the production of food has environmental, social, and economic impacts. Because there are many ways in which aquaculture can expand (e.g., more farm locations, new cultivated species, new gear types, different purposes), we are presented with a spectrum of potential impacts.

This spectrum has led to many different ideas and opinions surrounding the future of aquaculture and what it could and should entail. Although some of these opinions and ideas are captured in public comments and discourse, many stakeholders have not been as vocal or public-facing but are equally as important. As a scientist, I am interested in understanding these perspectives, particularly among the communities and sectors that are likely to be most affected by the expansion of marine aquaculture.

Over a year, with support from my Florida Sea Grant fellowship and collaboration with NOAA’s Southeast Fisheries Science Center, I will be traveling with Dr. Adriane Michaelis, an assistant professor at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, to nearly two dozen coastal communities throughout the Gulf of Mexico and Southern California, conducting hundreds of interviews and focus groups with commercial and recreational fishermen, seafood wholesalers and retailers, government officials, environmental organizations and the general public.

We will ask people about their knowledge and opinions of aquaculture, particularly what they think about it expanding in or close to their community. We want to know about their familiarity with the local aquaculture industry; what their concerns may be or any benefits they anticipate if aquaculture were to expand; and the types of aquaculture (e.g., particular species, locations, methods, purpose) they may or may not support and why.

As a scientist, I am interested in understanding these perspectives, particularly among the communities and sectors that are likely to be most affected by the expansion of marine aquaculture.

Through this research, we are hoping to create a more holistic and nuanced understanding of the social acceptability of aquaculture and to understand how this might differ across communities, demographics, and stakeholder groups.

Broadly, the concept of social acceptability refers to the process of learning about, accepting, and adapting to an innovation. For aquaculture, this refers to a community’s willingness to accept aquatic farming and the extent to which communities approve of its growth, both locally and elsewhere. For example: Do communities in the Tampa metropolitan area and across the Florida Keys support the expansion of similar farming methods? Do different stakeholder groups in Sarasota have similar concerns about aquaculture?

So far this year, we’ve already spoken with a broad range of individuals, from local seafood retailers and large-scale wholesalers to the directors of environmental non-profits and mayors of coastal cities. After more than one hundred interviews, we have yet to encounter anyone who sees aquaculture as black and white, to be supportive without qualification or oppositional without exception.

If you or anyone you know is interested in learning more about this research or participating in an interview, please don’t hesitate to reach out at or check back here for updates!