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College of Science and Mathematics

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Biology Professor Helps Develop Model for Sustainable Ocean Use

A team of universities that includes Cal Poly has developed a new analytical model that could lead to more environmentally sustainable ocean usage and management. The model can measure the effects of the interaction between multiple uses — for example aquaculture, wild fisheries and environmental health — in specific areas of the ocean.

The United States — which operated at a $14 billion seafood trade deficit in 2016 —  lags far behind other countries in aquaculture development due to complex regulatory policies and social opposition. Moreover, concerns about the environmental impact of offshore aquaculture, as well as potential conflicts with other sectors such as wild-capture fisheries, has limited broad development, even in areas primed for aquacultural success.

“We wanted to create a model that could optimize multiple uses rather than increasing the success of one at the expense of another, as traditional models do,” said Crow White, a Cal Poly biology professor who was part of the team that developed the analysis. “At the same time, we wanted to minimize negative impacts on the environment.”

White, biological sciences graduate student Joel Stevens, and their colleagues tested their approach by applying it to the development of offshore aquaculture along the Southern California coast. They developed models for three representative types of aquaculture farms with industry potential in Southern California: Mediterranean mussels, striped bass and sugar kelp. The models also measured the impact on such factors as halibut fisheries, environmental health and public views.

Using this approach, the team identified areas in the ocean where the economic value could increase by millions of dollars while harmful impacts would be reduced to less than one percent of those which result from conventional marine planning.

“We made sure our model included dimensions that accounted for industry and environmental interests,” said Sarah Lester of Florida State University, who led the project. “We were able to find ways to locate aquaculture in a way that minimizes conflict, minimizes environmental impact and yields huge value in terms of seafood produced.”

The models could be applied worldwide and can be used for other marine industries, such as the location of off-shore wind farms.

“Our hope is that this framework can be used around the world to help develop the seascape in a sustainable way that respects fisheries and other historical uses of the ocean while increasing economic benefits and decreasing the impact on the environment,” White said.

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