Aquaculture Water Use

Science Center Objects

Aquaculture water use is water associated with raising organisms that live in water—such as finfish and shellfish—for food, restoration, conservation, or sport. Aquaculture production occurs under controlled feeding, sanitation, and harvesting procedures primarily in ponds, flowthrough raceways, and, to a lesser extent, cages, net pens, and closed-recirculation tanks.


Public Supply  •  Domestic  •  Irrigation  •  Thermoelectric Power  •  Industrial  •  Mining  •  Livestock  •  Aquaculture




Paul Wilson guides a basket containing 2,000 pounds of catfish into a transport truck

Paul Wilson guides a basket containing 2,000 pounds of catfish into a transport truck (Credit: Stephen Ausmus, ARS-USDA)

2015 Water Use

(source: Dieter, C.A., Maupin, M.A., Caldwell, R.R., Harris, M.A., Ivahnenko, T.I., Lovelace, J.K., Barber, N.L., and Linsey, K.S., 2018, Estimated use of water in the United States in 2015: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1441, 65 p.,

Total withdrawals for aquaculture during 2015 were 7,550 Mgal/d, about 79 percent from surface water. Much of the surface water was used for flowthrough raceways and was returned to the source after use. Aquaculture withdrawals were 2 percent of total withdrawals for 2015.

Aquaculture water use in 2015

Aquaculture withdrawals, top States, 2015
[percentages calculated from unrounded values]
State Percentage of 
total withdrawals
Cumulative percentage 
of total withdrawals
Idaho 26% 26%
North Carolina 13% 39%
California 10% 49%
Oregon 8% 57%
Louisiana 7% 64%

Aquaculture withdrawals decreased 16 percent between 2010 and 2015.

Aquaculture water withdrawals, 1950-2015

Aquaculture water withdrawals, 1985-2015

Data sources

Some estimates of aquaculture withdrawals are derived from State permits that report water withdrawals or return flows for aquaculture facilities. The USEPA Permit Compliance System database also is a source of return-flow data that are used to estimate water withdrawals. State regulatory agencies, State offices of the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), and Cooperative Extension Service offices also provide information used to estimate aquaculture withdrawals in some States. Many of the 2015 withdrawals for aquaculture were estimated according to methods described by Lovelace (2009), using aquaculture data compiled for the NASS Census of Aquaculture with standardized water-use coefficients and water-replacement rates. The data included statistics for various aquacultured species and aquaculture ponds, raceways, tanks, egg incubators, pens, and cages at commercial and non-commercial aquaculture operations.

Category history

  • 1985: Water use for fish farming included in Livestock
  • 1990-1995: Water use was reported in Animal Specialties (fish farming) and Commercial (fish hatcheries)
  • 2000 and later: Aquaculture

Graphic of category changes over time