Model for siting fish aquaculture

Fish Aquaculture Simulation Model and Geographic Information Systems: Validation and Adaptation for Government Management Use

Researchers improved and validated the first successful modeling tool for evaluating net-pen aquaculture siting and environmental effects.

Principal Investigator

Jack Rensel, System Science Application, Inc.

Co-Principal Investigators

Dale Kiefer, University of Southern California

James A. Morris, NOAA, National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science

Frank O’Brien, System Science Applications, Inc.


With funding from a National Strategic Initiative, this project utilizes AquaModel, a geospatial software system to evaluate fish farm sites and determine their environmental carrying capacity. The system simulates the siting, operational, and environmental conditions of individual or multiple net-pen fish farms in coastal and ocean waters. Using field projects in British Columbia, Puget Sound, Nova Scotia, the Gulf of Maine, and Hawaii, researchers are examining relationships between these conditions and fish farm effects to validate AquaModel and refine its accuracy.

Research Updates


At this time, no commercial-scale net-pen fish farming operations have been permitted in the U.S. exclusive economic zone and very few operate in state waters.

Washington communities have questioned the environmental effects of these operations, raising concerns about harm to native species, view impairment, and waste accumulation. If farms are located near weaker currents, waste can accumulate and damage benthic and aquatic habitats. However, there is no adequate modeling tool to account for these factors and therefore government and industry managers are unable to evaluate prospective farm sites.


NOAA’s National Ocean Survey is using AquaModel as a primary tool to assess existing marine fish farms. Initial testing of the model with data from British Columbia and Hawaii shows remarkable fidelity to observed benthic and water column parameters, including respective sediment-sulfide and organic carbon conditions.


AquaModel. Created January 1, 2013.