Conflicting elements

Direct competition between these sectors can arise on account of similar spatial requirements and environmental impacts. Conflicts are more likely in places where aquaculture is not a traditional small-scale sector or has intensified over the years.

  • Visual impact of aquaculture sites. Sea-cage fish farms or mussel rafts typically have large surface structures that impact on the aesthetics of seascapes viewed from the shore. Supporting facilities on land may also have an effect on the coastal landscape, especially if they are close to resorts or tourist beaches.
  • Spatial restrictions for recreational fishing and boating. Spatial restrictions are usually in place around fish farms and cages, amounting to much larger non-anchoring areas than the farms themselves.
  • Decreased access to safe anchorage areas. Safe anchorage areas for recreational boaters are often also suitable sites for aquaculture. Routes to these places of refuge are not always safeguarded.
  • Accidental damage to boats and aquaculture installations. Underwater obstructions can be a hazard to craft that would otherwise be able to pass between a fish farm and the shore. A collision not only affects the tourists, but also damages the fish farm, with all possible consequences to both sides.
  • Impact of aquaculture on water quality. Feeding caged fish introduces a large source of nutrients to coastal areas which can lead to eutrophication. This eventually leads to increased algae growth, including toxic species of algae, rendering the water less suitable for certain recreational activities.
  • Impact of waste on aquaculture. Urban development and the disposal of untreated sewage from vessels can affect aquaculture, especially shellfish beds.

Aquaculture-tourism conflicts are generally nearshore conflicts as both activities require sheltered locations located relatively close to the coast. This may change in the future when aquaculture operations become larger and are able to move into deeper waters further offshore.

Drivers of conflict

Policy development for tourism is usually delegated to the regional and local level and rarely carried out at the national level. An important driver of conflict is the diversity of the sector and the variety of needs associated with different types of tourism. Presently, there is a tendency towards diversification, meaning more sustainable forms tourism are emerging. Experience-based tourism with focus on scenic, cultural and environmental assets, local traditions and produce attracts more affluent and discerning types of tourists.

Aquaculture is also one of the Blue Growth sectors predicted to keep growing in the future. In 2013 the European Commission published Strategic Guidelines presenting common priorities and general objectives at EU level. On a more local level, aquaculture can be a major employer in coastal communities, especially in more remote coastal regions; many such regions and communities therefore actively seek investment in the aquaculture industry.

In some countries, synergies have been found with tourism (e.g. “Aquiturismo” in Italy or the “Sea Garden” concepts in Denmark). In areas where “sustainable” forms of aquaculture are practised, these can provide good-quality seafood to tourists, improving the area’s attraction. However, in places where aquaculture is not a traditional sector or has been intensifying throughout the years, conflicts with tourism are likely to become more eminent.

Solutions (mitigation and adaptation)

The Master Plan for Coastal Aquaculture (Plan Director de Acuicultura Litoral in Spanish or PDAL) is now in place to guide planning and management for aquaculture until 2030. The Master Plan sets criteria for compatibility of aquaculture installations with the environmental, natural and landscape characteristics; it also establishes criteria to make aquaculture compatible with other coastal traditional activities such as fisheries and tourism. In the Spanish region of Galicia, Fisheries Protected Zones host aquaculture sites with a specific focus on bivalves. Implementing the PDAL, the regional government has elaborated sectoral policy that is compatible with environmental protection and other uses.


An obvious preventative solution is to use zoning schemes to prioritise specific activities (or combinations) in certain areas (see story 3). Zones could either be single-use or multi-use, depending on the local situation and needs (e.g. bivalve vs. fish farming). Zones can be defined through processes of elimination (e.g. determining zones that are unsuitable and potentially suitable for both activities and then narrowing them down in dialogue with the sectors), or by assigning political priority to one sector over the other. It is also possible to locate aquaculture sites away from tourist hotspots by means of licensing regulations only. In Norway, the trend of moving salmon farms further out to sea is partly due to the aesthetic impacts of installations where possible, aquaculture sites are being located to avoid interference with hotels. Ideally, any zoning schemes would be developed in a participatory manner involving the respective sectors and local communities.

It is possible to set a minimum distance for fish or shellfish farming operations from the coast, as exemplified by the Zadar Spatial Plan which specifies a minimum distance of 50m from the coast for shellfish farming. Feasible minimum distances, however, depend on the type of organism grown. A general rule would be that larger farms are placed away from those parts of the coast that are most intensively used by tourists. Cages with larger fish can be placed in more open, exposed seas as these cages tend to be larger, more robust and more resistant to waves, and because they have mesh with larger eyelets, so the stresses when moving through the waves are smaller. A species that requires more continuous monitoring and service, on the other hand, needs to be placed closer to the coast as constant care in the open ocean is not feasible.

In the Italian region of Emilia Romagna, “Aquiturismo” refers to aquaculture-related tourism, i.e. hosting tourists in aquaculture for recreational, educational and cultural activities. Aquiturismo is enshrined in regional legislation as a multi-use concept which is to be developed to sustain the aquaculture sector and increase the revenue for its operators. Rather than a means of addressing existing conflicts, Aquiturismo is considered a preventative approach in that it actively promotes synergistic development. An example is the Cavallino-Jesolo mussel plant in the northern Veneto region in Italy, where sport and recreational fisheries and guided tours are taking place within an area used for aquaculture. In Slovenia, tourist and education-related activities are offered by aquaculture farmers in Piran Bay. The same site in Piran Bay is also located in a protected fishing area and natural park, with farmers participating in environmental and biological research projects.

In Denmark, sea garden projects are making it possible for people to develop small-scale sustainable aquaculture operations (shellfish and seaweed) to grow locally produced marine products in their ‘back yard’. Examples of sea garden locations in Denmark include Horsens Fjord, Ebeltoft Vig, and Limfjord – Alborg, Løgstør, Nykøbing Mors and Lemvig harbours. Possible future developments in relation to sea gardens are the establishment of floating shelters/platforms, which could be used for attaching production units but also for camping, snorkelling or fishing, or the establishment of an artificial reef on the seafloor that can (among other benefits) support recreational diving. Sea gardens in the Limfjord were established through the cooperation between local authorities, an aquaculture network and specialised research consultancies. 

At present, surface cage technologies are cheap and dominate the marketplace. However, their aesthetic impact on coastal seascapes can be the source of conflict with coastal populations and tourism stakeholders. The use of submersible sea-cages may reduce this problem. Another advantage of submersible structures is that they avoid the strong physical forcing on the water surface caused by storms. This means they may be suitable for sites further offshore. They could also reduce the number of escapes of cultured fish which is caused by storm damage on the cage. There are still some technological and operational obstacles to overcome for submerged cage technology to thrive: Proof is needed for the aquaculture industry, for example, that these new cages do not lead to reduced growth rates, lower food conversion ratios or lower welfare of the cultured fish in comparison to current surface systems. Another solution – also dependent on technology and suitable sites – is to simply move aquaculture operations further offshore.

An obvious solution in cases of conflict with recreational vessels and bathers is to ensure that any potential impediments to navigation are clearly marked. This particularly applies to underwater cages and associated installations which are not visible from the surface or submerged at high tide. This can be done using simple buoys. Ideally, this would be supported by information provided to tourists and local residents, such as leaflets or information panels.

County governors in Norway are especially restrictive when recommending salmon farms in or near the mouths of salmon rivers. The ecological influences of these salmon farms were found to have a direct negative economic effect on recreational fishery in rivers. One way of dealing with such sensitive environments is to give priority to conservation or tourism in the affected area, which would naturally restrict applications for aquaculture development.

Aquaculture generally can have a negative image because of its environmental impacts. However, its actual impacts strongly depend on the form it takes (e.g. whether it is fish, bivalve or seaweed cultivation), the size of operations and the technological modalities chosen. Targeted information could increase the acceptance of more sustainable forms of aquaculture by tourists and local residents. This in turn could increase the demand for safe and more environmentally friendly seafood, benefitting tourism and coastal communities alike.

Last Update 25.02.2021