Activity 1: Introduction to Aquaculture

Youth will develop a hypothetical aquaculture development project as they go through this kit. A handout describing the project is available for you to print: Aquaculture Project – Final Presentation Instructions for Youth (PDF).

Overview of Aquaculture

Review Supplemental Resource #3 – Types of Aquaculture (PDF) for information about aquaculture methods.

Reviewing this video, What is Aquaculture? (YouTube) from Maine EPSCoR, of aquaculture in Maine periodically throughout the series of activities is recommended:


No endorsement of products or companies is intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products or companies implied.


  • Introduce the concept of aquaculture.
  • Try some data analysis.
  • Begin planning a custom (hypothetical) aquaculture project.

Learning Targets

  • Describe what aquaculture is.
  • Understand how water quality factors of turbidity, salinity, temperature, pH, and dissolved oxygen can impact aquatic species.
  • Recognize personal relevance to aquaculture.


60-80 minutes.


Included in this kit:

  • 25 Water Footprint Graph
  • Tragedy of the Commons/Fishing for the Future materials (1 set for every 3-4 youth)
    • 7 Aluminum pan (1 per set)
    • 7 sets of Beads (50 blue beads and 25 white beads per set)
    • 25 Wooden skewers – short is preferred, to reduce the risk of eye injuries youth)
    • 7 Plastic spoons
    • 25 Plastic or paper cups (1 per youth)
    • 25 Fishing Logs, printed and laminated
    • 25 Dry erase markers
    • 1 Timer

Not included but needed for this activity:

  • Paper towels
  • Evaluations (choose one or more of the following):
    • Exit Ticket (1 for each youth)
    • KLEWS Chart (1 for each youth)
    • Journals (1 for each youth)


General Vocabulary

  • Seafood: There is no consensus on a definition for seafood. The youth will agree on a definition of seafood. (Plants and animals from saltwater? Plants and animals from any water? Something else?) Be sure to record your groups’ definition.
  • Aquaculture: Farming of fish, shellfish, seaweeds and/or aquatic plants in water. Water can be fresh or salty, depending on the plants and animals that are farmed.
  • Marine: Refers to the ocean, also refers to salty water.
  • Aquatic: Refers to any kind of water.
  • Algae: Aquatic, plant-like, photosynthetic organisms. Range from phytoplankton to seaweed. (Difference from plants is due to structure, e.g. a holdfast instead of roots.)
    • Note: this definition is ever-changing in the scientific community.
  • Sustainable: the ability to be sustained, supported, upheld, or confirmed

Vocabulary for Water Footprint Graph

  • Water Footprint: The amount of water needed to produce this food.
    • For a plant, this is the amount of water a plant needs to grow.
    • For meat, this is the amount of water the animal drinks and the amount of water needed to grow the food the animal eats.
    • For aquatic species, the water footprint only includes things added to the system (e.g. water to grow fish feed), does not include the water the species is living in.
  • Protein: The most efficient way of storing energy (when compared to fats and carbs).
    • Humans cannot produce all of the proteins and amino acids needed to survive, unlike plants, so we must eat other things that have those amino acids and proteins.
    • Plants have some amino acids, but meat has more.

Background Information for Facilitators

Note:  All links are provided purely for educational purposes. No responsibility is assumed for any content on the linked site(s).

Introductory aquaculture videos:

  • What is Aquaculture? (YouTube), UMaine Cooperative Extension (length: 2:32)
    • Summary: Darling Marine Center, a short explanation of aquaculture in Maine, a brief history of aquaculture, why aquaculture?
  • Aquaculture (YouTube), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)  (length: 0:35)
    • Summary: Definition of aquaculture, why aquaculture?
  • Fish on a Farm (YouTube), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) (length: 2:35)
    • Summary: More in-depth on net-pen aquaculture method, touches on some sustainability issues

Tragedy of the Commons video:

Some longer aquaculture videos:

For those who have more time and/or want more in-depth information.

  • The case for fish farming, Mike Velings (TED-Talk), (length: 15:19)
    • Summary: Growing population means we will need more food, overfishing, why eat fish?, resources/water footprint, sustainability issues, bad aquaculture practices common in the past, modern aquaculture practices, polycultures
  • My wish: Protect our oceans, Sylvia Earle (TED-Talk), (length: 18:05)
    • Sylvia Earle’s TED prize talk, Mission Blue I (2009)
    • Summary: How the ocean has changed over the last 50 years and how most of those changes were caused by people, similarities between living in space and living underwater, the ocean is Earth’s life-support-system, thinking the oceans are so large that humans cannot damage it (and why this is no longer true), adding the ocean to Google Earth, ocean acidification, trash, and discarded fishing nets, unsustainable fishing methods, national parks → marine sanctuaries



Introduction (10 minutes)


  • Give each youth a journal.
  • This journal will be used to record observations from and develop a hypothetical aquaculture project. (The aquaculture project is described further below.)

If you are using journals as an evaluation method, we recommend using a consistent structure for all youth journals.

  • Go over the structure of the journal:
  • Everybody will be writing the same sort of thing on the same page. This way, anybody in the group can refer to, for example, definition x on page y and everybody can find it in their own journal.
  • General structure: notes and definitions on the left, brainstorming and observations on the right.
  • Aquaculture Project pages are structured slightly differently: information about species on the left, information about water bodies on the right.
  • Have youth number the pages of their journal. Start with page 1 on the left inside of the front cover, ending with page 34 on the right inside of the back cover.
  • Page 1 is the Title Page. Have youth write their name and a description of the kit (e.g. ‘Aquaculture’).
    • Optional: Have youth decorate the outside of the journal with their name, the topic, and pictures related to aquaculture. Decoration and personalization help youth to feel ownership over their journal.
  • Page 2 is the Table of Contents. Have youth add an entry for each lesson/activity. The first two entries should be “Norms … 3” and “Introduction to Aquaculture … 5” (or however you would like youth to format the Table of Contents).

Blanket statement: Youth should always write observations, including definitions, in their journals.

Discussion Norms

The group will be developing discussion norms for this kit. The goal of these norms is to make youth comfortable talking about things they may not be sure about and to enable youth to disagree in a comfortable and respectful way.

  • Journals: have youth brainstorm some discussion norms on page 4.
  • Have youth talk about the norms they brainstormed, and then add norms to the list as needed. (Letting youth choose norms makes it more likely they will follow them.)
  • Give some examples of norms (see below).
  • Ultimately, all youth must agree to follow this list of norms while using this kit.
  • Journals: youth write the final list of agreed discussion norms on page 3.

Example norms:

  • Be respectful
  • Be safe (especially when using equipment)
  • Ask questions 🙂
  • Disagree with ideas, not people
  • Take care of your needs

These example norms are intended to facilitate good discussions, especially to get youth to participate by talking and asking questions when needed.

Engage (20 minutes)

Deciding on Definitions

Aquaculture Definition

Have youth brainstorm about the meaning of the words ‘aquaculture’ and ‘seafood’.

  • KLEWS: fill out the K column at this time. Additional information for facilitators about utilizing KLEWS charts, journals, and exit tickets is available in this supplemental resource.
  • Journals: have youth brainstorm on page 6.

As a group, discuss and agree on a definition of ‘aquaculture’.

  • KLEWS: write the definition of aquaculture in the S column.
  • Journals: write the definition of aquaculture on page 5.

If needed, use the following questions to prompt discussion:

  • What does the word ‘aquaculture’ mean?
  • What does the word ‘agriculture’ mean?
  • What does the word ‘aquatic’ mean?
  • What are some things that we grow using aquaculture?
  • Why are the plants/animals being grown? To eat? For aquariums? To stock ponds/lakes/rivers?

Seafood Definition

As a group, discuss and agree as a group on a definition for ‘seafood’.

  • KLEWS: write the definition of seafood in the S column.
  • Journals: write the definition of seafood on page 5.

You should probably make it clear that there is no universally agreed-upon definition of ‘seafood’. The point of this exercise is to figure out and agree upon what the members of this particular group mean when someone says ‘seafood’.

(Optional: youth may develop alternative terms or phrases if they cannot agree on a definition for ‘seafood’.)

If needed, use the following questions to prompt discussion:

  • How do you define ‘seafood’? Is seafood any plant or animal grown in water? Or is seafood only plants or animals grown in saltwater?
  • Are there things you consider seafood that someone else does not?
  • How do you decide which foods are seafoods and which are not?
  • What do you call aquatic plants and animals that are not seafood?

Human Thermometer

Find out what youth know about aquaculture and seafood in general.

Answer the following questions by making a human thermometer.

To make a human thermometer, choose two areas in the room to be the ends of the thermometer, for example, two corners of a wall or two walls opposite each other. The thermometer ends will be labeled, for example, ‘yes’ and ‘no’ or ‘daily’ and ‘never’. The space between the thermometer ends is for students that are in between. For example, students that eat fish once a week or once a month would stand at some point in between the ‘daily’ and ‘never’ ends.

  • How often do you eat seafood or freshwater fish?
    • Thermometer ends are ‘daily’ and ‘never’
  • How often do you eat ice cream?
    • Thermometer ends are ‘daily’ and ‘never’
    • Post-Answer Note: Common ingredients in ice cream are ‘alginate’ and ‘carrageenan’. Both are thickening agents that help to make ice cream thick and creamy. Alginate is made from brown seaweeds (e.g. kelp). Carrageenan is made from red seaweeds (e.g. Irish Moss).
  • How often do you go fishing?
    • Thermometer ends are ‘daily’ and ‘never’.
    • Note: ‘Daily’ is contingent on a legal fishing season. In a sense, this question is asking how often youth fish when they are legally able to fish.
  • How often do you eat the fish you catch?
    • Thermometer ends are ‘always’ and ‘never’.
    • Note: ‘fish’ is used here, but shellfish and aquatic plants are also included.
  • (Optional) Are there any fish that are unsafe to eat?
    • Thermometer ends are ‘yes’ and ‘no’.
    • Note: not just fish. Include shellfish and seaweeds.
    • Discuss why fish may be unsafe to eat. Reasons could include mercury levels, heavy metal levels, pollution in water (e.g. pesticides, hormones, and medications).

Explore: Why should we care about aquaculture? (30-40 minutes)

Seafood vs. Terrestrial Food

Why eat seafood? Look at the Water Footprint vs. Protein Content Graph (PDF). (Give each youth a copy, and/or project the graph in a way that all youth can clearly see.) Compare the water footprint and protein content of 1 lb. of various foods.

  • Journals: brainstorm on page 6.
  • KLEWS: use the KLEWS chart when making the Claim-Evidence-Reasoning (CER).
    • What claim can you make? (L column)
    • What evidence in the graph supports your claim? (E column)
    • How does this evidence support your claim? (Reasoning) (S column)

Note: the water footprint is the amount of freshwater that is consumed by plants and/or animals as these foods are grown. The water that aquatic organisms live in is not included in their water footprint.

If needed, use the following questions to prompt discussion:

  • How do terrestrial animals differ from terrestrial plants?
  • Chocolate and coffee beans require a lot of water – where should these foods be grown?
  • How do aquatic species differ from land species?
  • If you have a limited amount of land, which types of food will you choose to produce? Why?
  • If you have a limited amount of water, which types of food will you choose to produce? Why?

Optional: Try the Tragedy of the Commons Activity

Tragedy of the Commons (or why we cannot just increase fishing catch limits and expect to catch more fish)

For directions visit the Fishing for the Future activity page (PBS website).

Fishing for the Future activity items: fishing log forms, beads, plastic spoon, skewer, aluminum dish
Set-up Image. Photo: Thomas Adams

We provide the materials for an adaptation of this activity in our 4-H STEM toolkits, substituting two colors of beads to replace the candy specified in the activity.  We also substitute skewers for the straws. In our adaptation, youth may only use two fingers to hold the skewers in round one but can use all their fingers on the skewers to represent new technology in later rounds.  A full printed version of our adaptation is provided (with the permission of the original authors) for those who borrow our “Your Future in Aquaculture:  Testing the Waters” 4-H Science Toolkit. If you would like to be emailed a copy of this activity please send your request to  We regret that we do not have permission to share our version online at this time.

Desired end conclusion: if we are to keep up with an increased demand for seafood, we need to get it by growing it, not solely relying on catching wild fish. (At least until the oceans have recovered to a point where we can harvest the amount we want from the wild fisheries in a sustainable way.)

Explain (5-10 minutes)

Ask youth to summarize what they have learned from these activities. (Be sure to have youth share with the group.)

  • KLEWS: use the L, E, and W columns.
  • Journals: write a summary towards the bottom of page 5.

Use the following example questions if needed:

  • How does aquaculture compare to agriculture?
  • How can humans get more ‘seafood’ (or whatever word you have chosen to represent all aquatic products) without negatively impacting fisheries?
  • How does aquaculture compare to fishing?
  • How do you know if you are doing aquaculture correctly? (This question is intended to get at water quality and sustainability.)

Extend (20-30 minutes)


Discuss sustainability, water quality, and how they relate to aquaculture. Add to KLEWS chart or journal or notes:

  • KLEWS: use the K column.
  • Journals: brainstorm on page 6.

If needed, use the following questions to prompt discussion:

  • What does the word ‘sustainability’ mean to you?
  • Can farming on land be done in an unsustainable way? Can farming on land be done in a sustainable way? (Which do you prefer? Why?)
  • Can aquaculture be done in an unsustainable way? In a sustainable way?
  • How do you know if a species is a good match for the water body you would like to grow it in?

Answer: Water quality is a huge driver in this decision! It is difficult to grow a species in a water body that does not have the conditions species need to live (stress-free) or survive (under stress).

Aquaculture Project

Youth will be developing a hypothetical aquaculture project as they go through this kit. Additional information for facilitators about this project is provided in an additional resource (Aquaculture Project – Introduction to Facilitator).

Overview of aquaculture

See Supplemental Resource #3: Types of Aquaculture (PDF) for information about aquaculture methods.

Begin designing your aquaculture project

Journals: record initial Aquaculture Project brainstorming on pages 7 and 8. Remember to record sources in your journal!

  • Pick a species to farm. Why did you pick this species?
    • Record things related to species on the left page.
  • Pick a nearby or familiar water body. Why did you pick this water body?
    • Record things related to the water body on the right page.
  • Is the species a match for the water body?
  • Optional: pick multiple species and multiple water bodies. This gives options if the youth ever hit a point where a species cannot be sustainably grown in a particular water body.

Evaluate (Assessment) (5 minutes)

Approximately 5 minutes before the end of the session, have youth finish up what they are doing, help clean up the materials, and do one of the following evaluation methods:

Have youth complete and turn in an exit ticket.

Have youth finish and turn in KLEWS chart.

After completing this activity youth should have the following in their journals:

  • Discussion norms (pages 3 and 4)
  • Definition of ‘seafood’ (and related terms) (page 5)
  • Definition of ‘aquaculture’ (page 5)
  • Observations about water footprint and protein contents (page 6)
  • Observations about aquaculture vs. fishing (from the Tragedy of the Commons game) (page 6)
  • Sustainable Aquaculture (pages 5 and 6)
  • Aquaculture Project: initial brainstorming (pages 7 and 8)
    • Species youth would like to grow
    • Water bodies where youth would like to farm