Worldwide, as wild-caught commercial fisheries plateau and human demands for protein increase, marine aquaculture is expanding. Much marine aquaculture is inherently adaptable to changing climatic and chemical conditions. Nevertheless, siting of marine aquaculture operations is subject to competing environmental, economic, and social demands upon and priorities for ocean space, while some forms of marine aquaculture can also impose other externalities on marine systems, such as pollution from wastes (nutrients) and antibiotics, consumption of wild fish as food, and introduction of non-native or genetically modified species. As a result, governmental policy decisions to promote both marine aquaculture that can adapt to a changing ocean and adaptive governance for that aquaculture can become contested, requiring attention to their social legitimacy.
This article explores how the law can promote the adaptability of marine aquaculture to climate change and ocean acidification—adaptive marine aquaculture—while still preserving key rule-of-law values, such as public participation and accountability. Perhaps most obviously, law can establish substantive requirements for marine aquaculture that minimize its impacts, promoting marine resilience overall. However, to foster truly adaptive marine aquaculture, including adaptive governance institutions, coastal nations should also procedurally reform their marine spatial planning efforts to legally connect the procedures for aquaculture permitting, marine spatial planning (MSP), and adaptive management. The goals for such connections, moreover, should be to mandate new forums for public participation and creative collaboration, promote experimentation with accountability that leads to increased knowledge, and foster the emergence of adaptive governance regarding the use of marine space.