When it utilizes the right practices and species and occurs in the right places, aquaculture can actively support the recovery of degraded ecosystems while also meeting increasing demands for food and livelihood. One approach, to simultaneously meeting environmental and social-economic needs, is restorative aquaculture, which we identify as commercial or subsistence aquaculture that provides direct ecological benefits to the environment with the potential to generate net positive environmental outcomes (Figure 1). To ensure restorative aquaculture can effectively and consistently meet these multiple and often conflicting objectives, however, a clearer understanding of the ways in which practices and systems provide environmental benefits is needed, along with widespread and ongoing monitoring.
We detail a cross-sectoral, -ecosystem and -geographic Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Framework for Restorative Aquaculture, which we developed to support evidence-based decisions about sustainable aquaculture, regenerative food strategies, and restoration activities linked to aquaculture. This framework draws on case studies of seaweed, shellfish, marine finfish and inland aquaculture to describe an ‘industry-ready’ M&E approach, inclusive of environmental and social targets, objectives, Key Performance Indicators, and a suite of suggested, low-cost monitoring methods for ecosystem services associated with water treatment and quality, provision of habitat, and climate change and resilience.
A consistent and transparent approach to monitoring will enable industry, government, community, and investors to identify the positive environmental impacts of aquaculture, and measure and monitor their ecological, social-economic values. It will also foster development of supporting mechanisms, such as effective policy, consumer awareness, and offsets.