Article | 24 Fév, 2022

Aquaculture and Nature-based Solutions: new report

A new report from the AquaCoCo project works to identify synergies between sustainable development of coastal  communities, aquaculture, and marine and coastal conservation. It examines the emerging concept of Nature-based Solutions (NbS) and the IUCN Global Standard for NbS when applied to socio-ecological systems that include aquaculture production. The report was developed under the AquaCoCo project and financed by the French Development Agency.

Aquaculture production has very significantly increased in tonnage and value over the last decades. It has been seen as a potential solution to replace declining wild fishery stocks, addressing the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 of food safety, and many other SDGs. However, this impressive growth in worldwide aquaculture production has also been associated with critical environmental and social drawbacks, highlighting the need for new approaches reconciling aquaculture with conservation and societal benefits. 

The potential of Nature-based Solutions


IUCN Global Standard for NbS logoPhoto: IUCN

NbS potential is examined by looking at the IUCN definition, principles and criteria proposed by Cohen-Shacham et al, and the recently developed IUCN Global Standard for NbS (IUCN, 2020a). The eight criteria of the Global Standard are shown as having a strong anthropogenic connotation, and they highlight that the central scientific concept of NbS is embedded in ecosystem-based approaches and management.

Instruments for the evaluation of ecosystem services (ES) and the degree of ecological engineering are essential parts in NbS design and assessment. In this context, the report then reviews the eight criteria of the Global Standard, taking into consideration the prevailing issues in aquaculture, such as the Ecosystem Approach for Aquaculture (EAA).  

NbS and Aquaculture

The study then examines the NbS framework as  an opportunity to enhance the sustainability of aquaculture systems by focusing on three aspects:

  • The Global Standard may provide opportunities to re-establish and further develop traditional local savoir-faire in aquaculture, as advocated by IUCN Resolution 045 for the creation of a Global Indigenous Network for Aquaculture (GINA). The restoration of traditional coastal ponds in Hawai’i illustrates this situation. 
  • EAA being widely recognised as being so far disappointing in its actual implementation and expansion since its launch 10 years ago and exploring how the release of the Global Standard could offer an opportunity in ‘reinvigorating’ EAA and reduce weaknesses that have been acknowledged. 
  • The Global Standard could provide new opportunities to explore synergies between aquaculture and marine protection. One of the expected positive outcomes, when the NbS framework is applied to aquaculture, is its ability to translate the complexity of assessing the sustainability of coastal social-ecological systems, including an aquaculture component, into practical, local and specific terms. 

Do aquaculture systems qualify?

Several examples of aquaculture systems indicate that some may be considered as potential
NbS. This is provided that a full and holistic assessment is made on each aquaculture-related solution, which subsequently shows that a candidate meets all eight NbS criteria and is documented to an acceptable level to assess benefits, impacts, trade-offs, and positive and negative externalities.


IUCN Global Standard for NbS 8 criteriaPhoto: IUCN

However, the report argues that the type and role of engineering and human intervention are still being debated among various authors, so a discussion and clarification are therefore still needed to determine whether aquaculture-related systems are considered as acceptable NbS, considering the extent of human-based artificial inputs and actions involved in the system. It may be difficult in aquaculture to distinguish between a solution that is dependent on ‘natural’ ecosystems, and a solution that is based upon a quite artificial aquaculture system, well managed, but decoupled from ‘naturalness’..

Similarly, it might also be critical for some aquaculture systems to provide clear evidence of a ‘net benefit’ for
biodiversity as required by Criterion 3 of the Global Standard. For instance, even for seaweed farming in coastal conditions, the Zanzibar case study shows that precautions need to be taken in the management of aquaculture activity regarding the integrity of seagrass beds. 

The full report and its development support

Please click here for the Full Report 

The report, published by IUCN, was developed in the context of the AquaCoCo project and financed by the French Development Agency, under the umbrella of the France-IUCN Partnership, under the lead of experts from the Ecosystem-based Aquaculture Group (E-bAG) of the IUCN Commission on Ecosystem Management (CEM).  
Learn more:

IUCN CEM Ecosystem-based Aquaculture Group (E-bAG)

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