Publications: Peer-reviewed journal articles (by staff)

Bivalve aquaculture in estuaries: review and synthesis of oyster cultivation effects

1 January, 2009

Forrest BM, Keeley NB, Hopkins GA, Webb SC, Clement DM 2009. Bivalve aquaculture in estuaries: review and synthesis of oyster cultivation effects. Aquaculture 298(1-2): 1-15.


Oyster farming in estuaries is a globally important industry based primarily around the Pacific oyster Crassostrea gigas, for which a common technique is elevated culture on racks, trestles and other structures. We review literature on cultivation impacts. revealing a research focus and state of knowledge that largely parallels that for other aquaculture species and cultivation methods. Ecological studies of elevated culture effects have focused on changes to the benthos from biodeposition, and largely show that impacts are localized and minor by comparison with many other forms of aquaculture. The broader ecological issues associated with elevated oyster culture include the effects of pests (fouling pests, toxic/noxious microalgae, disease), creation of novel habitat (e.g. by fouling of farm structures and accumulation of shell), alteration to nutrient cycling, depletion of suspended particulate matter by oyster crops, and related effects on higher trophic level animals including fish, seabirds and marine mammals. These issues are less well understood for elevated culture systems, but ecological effects can be inferred from the few studies that have been conducted, from other forms of bivalve aquaculture (e.g. mussels). and to some extent from fundamental knowledge of the role of oysters as 'ecosystem engineers'. We use a risk ranking method to evaluate ecological risks (and associated uncertainty intervals) for each of the issues associated with estuarine oyster culture, based on subjective assessment of the likelihood and consequences (severity, spatial extent and duration) of adverse effects. Our assessment reveals that the introduction and spread of pest species are potentially important but often overlooked consequences of oyster cultivation. By comparison with most other sources of impact, the spread of pests by aquaculture activities can occur at regional scales, potentially leading to ecologically significant and irreversible changes to coastal ecosystems. We suggest that future studies of cultivation effects redress the balance of effort by focusing more on these significant issues and less on the effects of biodeposition in isolation. Furthermore, the acceptability of aquaculture operations or new developments should recognize the full range of effects, since adverse impacts may be compensated to some extent by the nominally 'positive' effects of cultivation (e.g. habitat creation), or may be reduced by appropriate planning and management Even more broadly, aquaculture developments should be considered in relation to other sources of environmental risk and cumulative impacts to estuarine systems at bay-wide or regional scales, so that the effects of cultivation are placed in context.

 (C) 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.