Kelp farming is increasing along the temperate coastlines of the Americas and Europe. The economic, ecological, and social frameworks surrounding kelp farming in these new areas are in contrast with the conditions of progenitor kelp farming regions in China, Japan, and Korea.
Thus, identifying and addressing the environmental and social impacts of kelp farming in these regions is vital to ensuring the industry’s long-term sustainability. Here, a conceptual model of the human and natural systems supporting this nascent kelp aquaculture sector was developed using Maine, USA as a focal region. Potential negative impacts of kelp aquaculture were identified to be habitat degradation, overfishing of wild seeds, predation and competition with wild fish and genes, and transmission of diseases. Increased food security, improved restoration efforts, greater fisheries productivity, and alternative livelihoods development were determined to be potential positive impacts of kelp aquaculture. Changes in biodiversity and productivity resulting from either negative or positive impacts of kelp aquaculture were confirmed to have downstream effects on local fisheries and coastal communities. Recommendations to improve or protect the ecosystem services tangential to kelp farming include: define ecosystem and management boundaries, assess ecosystem services and environmental carrying capacity, pursue ecologically and socially considerate engineering, and protect the health and genetic diversity of wild kelp beds. Recommendations to ensure that kelp farming improves the well-being of all stakeholders include: increase horizontal expansion, expand and teach Best Management Practices, and develop climate change resiliency. Additionally, an integrated management strategy should be developed for wild and farmed kelp to ensure that kelp aquaculture is developed in the context of other sectors and goals.