Science-based marine aquaculture, or mariculture, is expanding around the world. Nonetheless, how scientists engage in mariculture planning, and why particular types of data are used to inform development decision-making, is less clear. In the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina, coastal managers and scientists embarked on an ambitious effort to establish shellfish farming and created a thriving mariculture industry. This study draws upon in-depth interviews with scientists, government officials, and shellfish growers to better understand the social forces that affected scientific engagement in mariculture planning in Santa Catarina. From agronomic insights about shellfish growth to microbiological understanding of pathogenic threats to seafood, wide-ranging types of science could inform mariculture planning. Our data show marked differences in 1) the involvement of scientists based on their disciplinary expertise and 2) the use of production versus impact or risk-related data to support decision-making. Utilizing conceptual insights from sociological study of science and institutions, we show how normative, cultural-cognitive, and regulative forces influence both scientists’ involvement in planning and the use of scientific data to inform mariculture-related decisions. Most notably, asymmetries appear in the effects of norms related to methodological practices among scientists focused on enhancing shellfish production versus those investigating potential health and environmental concerns. Cultural differences among scientists from different disciplines also affected their inclination to collaborate with government officials and growers. Finally, ambiguities in mariculture-related regulations led to the differential involvement of scientists, in particular hindering investigations focused on seafood safety and public health. These results illustrate that social forces influence how science is practiced and that this, in turn, shapes the course of science-based mariculture development. Given their key social role, broader sociological investigation of scientists as social actors could provide valuable insights to those seeking to ensure coastal development is both socially and ecologically sustainable.