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Aquaculture & Tourism

Suitable areas for the development of marine aquaculture are usually close to shore to ensure servicing costs are kept to a minimum, while sheltered inshore locations also represent valuable points of interest for coastal tourism. Direct competition can subsequently arise as both sectors compete for space by requiring similar areas and can affect each other on account of environmental impacts. Both sectors also represent important economic yields, although coastal tourism  largely surpasses aquaculture [1] [2]. Coastal tourism generates the largest share of employment and GVA in the EU Blue Economy [3], while aquaculture is one of the blue growth sectors predicted to continue growing in the future and is already an important employer in some coastal communities [4] [5].

The challenge for MSP authorities is to adequately allocate space to ensure that the sectors coexist and possibly generate mutual and reciprocal benefits for each other. With respect to aquaculture and maritime tourism, there are synergies that could effectively benefit both sectors. Aquaculture and its products can increase the touristic attractivity and enhance the culinary offer of the region while tourism can help promote aquaculture sites as a valuable part of heritage. This fiche sets out the key elements of the challenges to address in the interactions between aquaculture and tourism and what Maritime Spatial Planners can do to prevent or resolve these challenges.

This fiche sets out the range of interactions to be considered between aquaculture and tourism, what MSP can do to avoid and mitigate possible negative interactions. 

Related challenges

A significant part of the challenges between the two sectors arises on account of the use of space. For operating reasons, aquaculture requires a mono-allocation of space: it falls to the public decision-maker to set clear usage rules in order to avoid negative or even hazardous interactions. 

Direct challenges associated with the use of space

Spatial restrictions for recreational fishing and boating

The presence of aquaculture facilities often requires restrictions to recreational activities taking place within a certain distance from the fish farms or cages. Such restrictions aim at minimizing the risk of accidents for boaters and fishers. Fishing and boating too close to a fish farm can also contribute to an increased risk of the spread of bacteria [13] and increase stress to the fish [14]. In Norway for example, every farm has a buffer zone of 20 meters where traffic is prohibited as well as a zone of 100m where fishing is prohibited [15].

Risk of collision and accidental damage to boats and aquaculture installations

Some components of aquaculture infrastructure such as ropes between mussel buoys, or floating pipes that transport fish feed to the cages represent a hazard to boats. Collisions are more likely in areas that are already hazardous, such as areas with strong currents or tides[16]. A collision not only affects the boaters but can also damage the fish farm.

Decreased access to safe anchorage areas

Recreational boaters need to have easy and quick access to sheltered harbours and anchorage areas in case of adverse weather at sea. However, aquaculture facilities are often located in such sheltered inshore waters which also, by their nature, represent refuges for recreational craft in poor weather conditions [17]. The boating community fears a loss of these protected areas through intensive aquaculture development. Moreover, some anchorages are not formally designated as such on nautical charts although they are commonly used in the local boating community. 


Indirect challenges

Visual impact of aquaculture sites

Some aquaculture installations such as sea-cage fish farms or mussel rafts have large surface structures that impact the aesthetics of seascapes viewed from the shore. Facilities on land, for example maintenance ports and fish production facilities, may also have an effect on the coastal landscape, especially if they are close to resorts or tourist beaches. Stakeholders related to beach and coastal tourism as well as residents are often concerned that the visibility of aquaculture sites from the coast reduces the attractiveness of the place [18].

Impact of aquaculture on water quality

Fish rearing requires the introduction of several components within the farm that might be harmful to the environment. First, feeding caged fish necessitates to use a large source of nutrients. Algae feed on the nutrients and grow. When the algae eventually die, they are decomposed by bacteria. This process consumes the oxygen dissolved in the water, potentially leaving fish (and other maritime organisms) with an insufficient level of oxygen. Secondly, fish production often requires the use of antibiotics / antimicrobials to inhibit the growth of pathogens that could affect fish. This trend appears to be rising significantly [19]. The accumulation of such products in coastal waters is concerning as they can have toxic effects on coastal biota and on human health [20]. Additionally, the overuse of antibiotics can create antibiotic-resistant bacteria. More generally, fish production can also generate waste feed, faeces, heavy metals and organic pollutants which can pollute the local marine environment, affect biodiversity and make the water look less attractive. Shellfish farming can also generate plastic waste (anti-predator netting, plastics trays, etc.). 

Impact of waste and human activities on aquaculture. 

Urban development and human pressure in coastal areas resulting from tourism can also affect aquaculture. Nutrients from wastewater run into the sea and can cause eutrophication. When sewage treatment in coastal cities is inadequate, it can have significant negative effects. The same applies to insufficiently regulated boating sector and the waste disposal regulations related to it: higher faecal coliform levels have been found in coastal waters where recreational boating activity is high [21]. This also concerns cruise ships with respect to sewage and greywater, as well as commercial ships lying at anchor. This type of pollution has particularly negative impacts on nearby shellfish beds.


Related enablers


DISCLAIMER: This page is based on the previous existing section “MSP Sectors and Conflicts” presented on the European MSP Platform, and where you can find the related fiche here.

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Existing co-existence and multi-use initiatives