Aquaculture Science Hub

Habitat Value of Shellfish and Seaweed Aquaculture for Fish and Mobile Invertebrates

Pathways, Synthesis, and Next Steps

Four people wearing orange waders stand on a boat, surrounded by water and floating oyster cages.
Chesapeake Oyster Aquaculture Chesapeake Oyster Aquaculture © TNC

Theuerkauf, S.J., Barrett, L.T., Alleway, H.K., Costa-Pierce, B.A., St. Gelais, A., Jones, R.C., 2022. Habitat value of bivalve shellfish and seaweed aquaculture for fish and invertebrates: Pathways, synthesis and next steps. Reviews in Aquaculture 14, 54–72. 

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Abstract: Aquaculture can have negative environmental impacts, adding to the suite of anthropogenic stressors that challenge coastal ecosystems. However, a growing body of scientific evidence indicates that the commercial cultivation of bivalve shellfish and seaweed can deliver valuable ecosystem goods and services, including provision of new habitats for fish and mobile invertebrate species.

We completed a systematic literature review of studies focused on understanding habitat-related interactions associated with bivalve and seaweed aquaculture, and a brief meta-analysis of 65 studies to evaluate fish and mobile macroinvertebrate populations at farms and reference sites.

Bivalve and seaweed aquaculture were associated with higher abundance (n = 59, range: 0.05× to 473×, median lnRR = 0.67) and species richness (n = 29, range: 0.68× to 4.3×, median lnRR = 0.13) of wild, mobile macrofauna. Suspended or elevated mussel and oyster culture yielded the largest increases in wild macrofaunal abundance and species richness. We describe the major mechanisms and pathways by which bivalve and seaweed aquaculture may positively influence the structure and function of faunal communities—including provision of structured habitat, provision of food resources and enhanced reproduction and recruitment—and identify the role of the species cultivated and cultivation gear in affecting habitat value.

Given the continued deterioration of coastal habitats and increasing investments into their restoration, understanding how industry activities such as aquaculture can be designed to deliver food within ecological limits and have positive influences on ecosystem goods and services is essential in ensuring ecological, social and economic objectives can be achieved.