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Marine aquaculture zoning and site selection, contribution of GIS-based tools

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A key obstacle in the development of EU marine aquaculture is the overall low availability or low accessibility of suitable areas in coastal areas.  The creation of new aquaculture sites often faces sea-space use conflicts and/or opposition from coastal inhabitants and policy-makers (not in my backyard, not in my term of office).

A recent survey conducted by FAO and the World Bank[1] promoting the ecosystem approach to aquaculture, provides the conceptual guideline and operational tools for the  smart spatial planning of marine aquaculture activities, including aquaculture zoning, site selection and area management. The assumption is that poor spatial planning can undermine the viability of businesses and the socio-economic benefits that can be derived from aquaculture development and lower its contribution to the “blue economy”.

To define areas that are the most suitable for sustainable aquaculture production three complementary spatial approaches have to be developed:

  • Biosecurity zoning, delimiting infected zones and disease-free zones. This first zoning allows for delimiting the possible areas for aquaculture, in particular for shellfish farming, and then defining maximum density and distances between farms;
  • Environmental zoning, identifying the best possible zones regarding environment parameters (oxygen, temperature, depth, nutrients, p….) and production issues, such as filter feeders (e.g. oysters, mussels) productivity and yields and/or overharvesting of common-pool oxygen and microalgae (maximum density of farmed biomass). This zoning delimits the most suitable areas for aquaculture;
  • Socio-economic interactions zoning, taking into consideration other activities potentially competing with aquaculture for access to water and space use and likely to generate conflicts or lack of confidence in the sustainability of aquaculture. This last zoning, often based on political choices, delimits the relevant and acceptable areas for aquaculture development.


These spatial approaches have been partly developed for EU marine aquaculture within the framework of different EU policies:

  • Concerning biosecurity zoning, the location and boundaries of production areas suitable for shellfish harvesting or farming in terms of sanitary conditions are delimited by national competent authorities under Regulation (EC) N° 854/2004 of April 2004;
  • Environmental and socio-economic zoning had to be taken into consideration by Member States for establishing their Multiannual National Strategic Plans for the promotion of sustainable aquaculture for 2014-2020 (Art 34 of the Common Fisheries Policy). Spatial planning was clearly expected for identifying the most suitable areas for aquaculture development.


Following this, several EU Members States developed GIS tools to manage the development of marine aquaculture and the harvesting of shellfish and algae in coastal areas (see below aquaculture geoportal of the Portuguese Authority)

Source : Geoportal de aquicultura MAR – Republica Portuguesa

Up to now, the EMODNET Human Activities portal only disseminates location of existing aquaculture situated beyond the coastline. The aquaculture dataset will integrate environmental zoning and spatial planning approaches for coastal areas, including coastal land-based facilities, in the coming months.

[1] Aquaculture zoning, site selection and area management under the ecosystem approach to aquaculture. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations / The World Bank. Rome, 2017

The information and views set out in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Commission. Neither the European Commission nor any person acting on the European Commission's behalf may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information therein.

January 18th, 2018 | Written by

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