Synthesis of the lessons learned from the development and testing of innovative tools to support ecosystem-based spatial planning to aquaculture


This report synthesises the process, results and main outcomes obtained through the AquaSpace project, which aims to optimise and increase the available area for aquaculture, in both marine and freshwater environments, by supporting implementation of the Ecosystem Approach to Aquaculture (EAA). Through global case studies and stakeholder engagement, the project analysed planning challenges facing the aquaculture sector, and reviewed and tested tools to address these and support better spatial allocation of aquaculture activities. This synthesis report summarises the research results and gathers recommendations on the further development needs of tools and strategies supporting spatial planning of sustainable aquaculture. 

Application in MSP: 
Unknown effect
Type of Issue: 
Economic aspects
Ecosystem-based approach
Environment aspects
Type of practice: 
Stage of MSP cycle: 
Analyse spatial aspects
Cross-border / trans-national aspect: 

Questions this practice may help answer

  • What are the key planning challenges faced by the aquaculture sector and how can these be addressed in MSP?
  • What spatial tools and methods are available to support integration of aquaculture into MSP?
  • What are the research needs and challenges to improve existing tools and methods for EEA?

Implementation Context

The report “Synthesis of the lessons learned from the development and testing of innovative tools to support ecosystem-based spatial planning to aquaculture” presents the overarching outputs of the EU Horizon 2020 project AquaSpace. The main aim of the AquaSpace project is to optimise and increase the available area for aquaculture, in both marine and freshwater environments, by supporting implementation of the Ecosystem Approach to Aquaculture (EAA), and spatial planning for aquaculture to complement implementation of other relevant European legislation and policies including the MSP Directive, WFD, MSFD, etc. AquaSpace aims to contribute to increased production, employment opportunities and economic growth of the aquaculture sector. The EAA was defined by FAO as a strategy for the integration of aquaculture within the wider ecosystem in such a way that it promotes sustainable development, equity, and resilience of interlinked social and ecological systems.

Aspects / Objectives 

This AquaSpace report presents an evaluation of tested tools and recommendations based on lessons learned and development of guidance, synthesising the results from the preceding project work packages. AquaSpace focused oncross case study comparison and experiences gained during the implementation of tools and methods supporting ecosystem-based spatial management of aquaculture. This synthesis document sets out current issues, needs and recommendations to spatial planning for aquaculture in Europe, along with Norway, the United States of America, Canada, China, and Australia. The analysis covers both marine and freshwater environments.

The report presents the new and innovative tools to contribute to spatial management of aquaculture developed through the AquaSpace project, along with an evaluation of previously existing tools tested in the global case studies. It also sets out present and future needs and recommendations regarding the further development of tools and methods, to support the implementation of the EAA and develop spatial planning for increased production of aquaculture.


The AquaSpace project undertook the following steps: 

  • Identification of industry-wide issues and options presented as the key points constraining or strengthening the growth of aquaculture in Europe (Work Package 2).
  • Mapping a wide variety of tools and methods against the constraints identified in WP2 and testing and development of tailored tool (Work Package 3).
  • Tools validation, working collaboratively with stakeholders in 17 aquaculture case study sites spanning a variety of scales, species, different trophic levels and different environmental interactions, and most importantly, with a range of key space-related development constraints as defined by local stakeholders (Work Package 4).

The results of these work packages are synthesised and reported in this Synthesis Report.

Main Outputs / Results

The project identified a broad range of tools which may be used in the planning of aquaculture activities. Through SWOT analysis, it was identified that the multidisciplinary nature of many of the tools were useful in supporting consideration of siting of aquaculture, and that they supported consultation as a way to explore ecosystem functioning and potential impacts, whether ecological or socioeconomic, over the long term. The value of accessible GIS-based tools was highlighted. The weaknesses of such complex tools included the demand for data, which is often lacking, and the extent to which uncertainty is handled in models and modelled outputs. Spatial resolution was often limited, with insufficient detail for planning at a specific site scale. The costs and resources required to refine and improve the models over time is also a limiting factor, particularly when also considering the need for training of users. 

The increasing emphasis on integrated marine management, including the implementation of MSP in Europe under the MSP Directive, highlights the potential role of such models and tools in informing the siting of aquaculture activity along with other sectors, and therefore there is the need and opportunity to build on these results and refine models to support ecosystem-based planning.


The report provides useful information for the consideration of planning of aquaculture in any maritime context, and the integration of this particular blue growth sector within broader MSP programmes.

Contact Person

Report first author:

Ibon Galparsoro,



AquaSpace Project Co-ordinator:

Paul Tett

Scottish Association for Marine Science (Scotland)

Responsible Entity 


Costs / Funding Source

The report was developed within the Horizon 2020 AquaSpace Project, Horizon 2020 grant no. 633476.