Food systems and the communities they support are increasingly challenged by climate change and the need to arrest escalating threats through mitigation and adaptation. To ensure climate change mitigation strategies can be implemented effectively and to support substantial gains in greenhouse gas emissions reduction, it is, therefore, valuable to understand where climate-smart strategies might be used for best effect. We assessed mariculture in 171 coastal countries for vulnerabilities to climate change (12 indicators) and opportunities to deliver climate mitigation outcomes (nine indicators). We identified Northern America and Europe as having comparatively lower regional vulnerability and higher opportunity for impact on climate mitigation. Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, New Zealand, Norway and the United States of America were identified as well-positioned to advance strategies linked to mariculture. However, the nature of vulnerabilities and opportunities within and between all regions and countries varied, due to the formation of existing mariculture, human development factors and governance capacity. Our analysis demonstrates that global discussion will be valuable to motivating climate-smart approaches associated with mariculture, but to ensure these solutions contribute to a resilient future, for industry, ecosystems and communities, local adaptation will be needed to address constraints and to leverage local prospects. This article is part of the theme issue 'Nurturing resilient marine ecosystems'.