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Preliminary study on the effects of exclusion of wild fauna from aquaculture cages in a shallow marine environment

Felsing M, Glencross B & Telfer T (2005) Preliminary study on the effects of exclusion of wild fauna from aquaculture cages in a shallow marine environment, Aquaculture, 243 (1-4), pp. 159-174.


Previous investigations into the environmental impacts at a shallow-water oligotrophic marine experimental cage aquaculture site in Western Australia have found no accumulation of organic material, and limited changes in macrofaunal communities. It was hypothesised that wild fish populations in the area consumed particulate wastes emanating from the cage, thus reducing the benthic impacts. An experiment was designed to quantify the accumulation of organic material on the seabed occurring in the presence and absence of wild fauna. Three treatments were arranged in duplicate, cages without exclusion nets (normal situation) (CAGE-FISH); cages surrounded by a 35-mm mesh exclusion net (preventing wild fish access to the sea bed and water column near the cage) (CAGE-FISH-EXCL); and empty cages surrounded by exclusion nets (to control for effects from the exclusion net) (CAGE-EXCL). In addition, four reference sites without cages (REF) were sampled. Following baseline sampling, rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) were stocked into the CAGE-FISH and the CAGE-FISH-EXCL treatments at an initial stocking density of 2.4 kg m-3. The experiment was terminated after 62 days, at a final stock density of 5.6 kg m-3. Sampling found significantly greater accumulation of nutrients and fine sediments under the cages enclosed in the exclusion net than in other treatments and sites. Levels of organic carbon deposition at cages with exclusion nets was found to be 4.5±1.0 g C m-2 day-1 (mean±S.E.) compared to 0.7 to 1.1 g C m-2 day-1 at control and reference sites.

The accumulation of nutrients at the CAGE-FISH-EXCL sites was correlated to distinct changes in macrofaunal community composition, with a sharp increase in overall macrofaunal abundance and a growing dominance of capitellid polychaetes. Based on a comparison between sedimentation rates within and outside excluded areas, the proportions of the total sedimenting nutrients consumed by wild fish were calculated to be 40% to 60%. It was concluded that in the natural coastal system of Western Australia or comparable environments, wild fish are potential important consumers of cage aquaculture waste materials. The fact that sediment C, N and P did not increase below cages with fish and no exclusion nets suggests that the benthic fauna, including surface grazing fish, at these sites were able to assimilate much of the remaining total sedimentary nutrients.

environmental impact; cage aquaculture; fate of nutrients; western Australia; wild fish exclusion; rainbow trout

AuthorsFelsing Malene, Glencross Brett, Telfer Trevor
Publication date03/01/2005
Publication date online13/11/2004
Date accepted by journal27/09/2004
ISSN 0044-8486

Aquaculture: Volume 243, Issue 1-4 (JAN 3 2005)

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