Designation and management of Allocated Zones for Aquaculture


Starting from an extensive review of several experiences of spatial planning in marine waters across the world assisting the aquaculture development, the article presents a framing procedure to properly design and manage Allocated Zones for Aquaculture (AZA), minimising environmental and socio-economic adverse impacts as well as negative interaction with other uses. The suggested procedure assigns a prominent role to MSP and the ecosystem approach in designing and managing AZA. The procedure includes the development of an Environmental Impact Assessment step leading to the definition of an Allowable Effect Zone and of an Aquaculture Management Area. A Monitoring Program to be developed for each management area is the last step foreseen by the suggested procedure, defining an appropriate spatial and temporal sampling design, proper indicators and Environmental Quality Standards (EQS).

Application in MSP: 
Unknown effect
Type of Issue: 
Coexistence of uses
Environment aspects
Type of practice: 
Stage of MSP cycle: 
Vision and aims
Cross-border / trans-national aspect: 

Questions this practice may help answer

  • What is an Allocated Area for Aquaculture?
  • What are the potential benefits of establishing Allocated Areas for Aquaculture?
  • What are the suggested steps for the identification and environmental management of Allocated Areas for Aquaculture?

Implementation Context

The suggested approach for AZA selection and the recommended procedure for AZA management are described in: Sanchez-Jerez, P., Karakassis, I., Massa, F., Fezzardi, D., Aguilar-Manjarrez, J., Soto, D., & Marino, G. (2016). Aquaculture’s struggle for space: the need for coastal spatial planning and the potential benefits of Allocated Zones for Aquaculture (AZAs) to avoid conflict and promote sustainability. Aquaculture Environment Interactions, 8, 41-54 (hereafter Sanchez-Jerez et al., 2016). The approach is based on an extensive review of several examples of spatial planning initiatives in marine waters across the world to assisting aquaculture siting and development.

Aspects / Objectives

The main objective of the article used to develop this practice is to analyse the potential benefits of AZA designation and propose key considerations for their successful implementation and management.


The proposed AZA selection approach and the recommended procedure for AZA management have been developed after an extensive review of marine spatial planning initiatives in marine waters across the world to assist aquaculture development. Key examples from different areas are taken in consideration, including: Europe (Italy, Spain, Malta, Croatia, Greece), Oceania and Asia (New Zealand, Australia, China), North and South America (Canada, USA, Ecuador, Chile) and Africa (Morocco, Tunisia). Successful and unsuccessful stories are reported to build a general informative basis, used to understand how spatial planning is implemented and how the concept of AZA has been flexibly implemented in regions with different legal and regulatory framework.

Main Outputs / Results

The technical procedure suggested to design and manage Allocated Zones for Aquaculture is the main output of the analysis illustrated in the article.  An Allocated Zone for Aquaculture (AZA) is defined as a “marine area where the development of aquaculture has priority over other uses, and therefore will be primarily dedicated to aquaculture”. The key steps of the proposed procedure are: (i) Spatial Planning, (ii) Environmental Impact Assessment and (iii) Monitoring Program. The procedure includes the identification of the AZA, the definition of an Allowable Zone of Effect (AZE) and the identification of an Aquaculture Management Area (AMA). The basic idea is that simply applying a spatial planning procedure for the selection of AZA is not enough to guarantee the development of sustainable aquaculture. The role of management in AZA implementation, after its designation, is therefore highlighted.

Following the proposed scheme, the selection of AZA should be done following the ecosystem approach principles applied to aquaculture and within the framework of Maritime Spatial Planning (step 1). A technical procedure of site selection using biological and oceanographic information and taking into consideration ecological and social constraints must be applied in this step. A participatory approach is recommended, which considers the social acceptability of aquaculture in the area. The need for spatial planning to ensure the allocation of adequate space for aquaculture is emphasized by the Committee of Fishery of FAO (2013[1]) who highlighted the benefits of spatial planning for multiple outcomes.

The second step is the development of an EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) for each designed AZA, in order to:

  • Forecast the potential environmental and socio-economic impacts of aquaculture;
  • Define the spatial extent of the AZE (Allowable Zone of Effect) for a determinate level of production and type of mariculture;
  • Estimate the area of influence around the AZE; and
  • Define the AMA (Aquaculture Management Area).

The EIA will also facilitate the collection of baseline environmental information, enable estimation of the holding/carrying capacity and define the indicators to be used by the monitoring programme, as well as values for Environmental Quality Standards (EQS). The development of a Monitoring Program, defining an appropriate spatial and temporal sampling design is the third step. The programme should consider biosecurity aspects and social and environmental constraints. Monitoring results should be made public and communicate the status of the AZA to the public in an accessible way.


The suggested procedure for AZA identification and management is thought to be a frame potentially applicable to any marine area facing the issue of aquaculture development in competition with other human uses of the same marine space. It is stressed that selection of an AZA should be an adaptive process, in order to respond to the potential effects of future (socio-economic and environmental changes), including climatic ones.

Contact Person

P. Sanchez-Jerez
Corresponding author
University of Alicante
Department of Marine Science and Applied Biology


[1] FAO (2013). Applying spatial planning for promoting future aquaculture growth. In: Seventh session of the Sub-Committee on Aquaculture (SCA) of the FAO Committee on Fisheries (COFI), St. Petersburg, 7−11 October 2013, Discussion document: COFI: AQ/VII/2013/6.