Milford Lab's GoPro Aquaculture Project
Using GoPro Cameras to Understand Interactions Between Shellfish Aquaculture Gear and the Environment
- If oyster aquaculture cages provide habitat similar to that of naturally occurring rock reef environments,
- If cage densities associated with shellfish farming attract fish differently than single cages placed in areas with little natural structure, and
- If different styles of oyster aquaculture cages provide different habitat services to the local fish community.
Shellfish aquaculture can increase food production, create economic opportunities in coastal areas and enhance natural harvests. To foster successful, responsible, and sustainable aquaculture for the future, we need to understand how aquaculture gear may interact with marine ecosystems. Off-bottom multi-tiered oyster cages are growing in popularity as a method for culturing large numbers of oysters on a small footprint. These cages create complex structures that may attract fish and other animals seeking food sources, shelter, and refuge from water currents or protection from predators. Because of the cages' structure, they may function like naturally occurring rock reefs, providing beneficial habitat to ecologically and economically important fish and invertebrates.
Informing Decision Makers
Understanding if and how oyster cages function like naturally occurring habitats may help with regulatory and permitting processes when siting new shellfish farms. Regulatory challenges have been identified as one of the major bottlenecks to shellfish aquaculture expansion in the US. Close partnership with the NOAA Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office ensures that the results from this study will be useful to the regulatory community.
Comparing Aquaculture Gear to Natural Habitat
Naturally occurring rock reefs create habitat complexity in an often otherwise flat and featureless landscape. Rock reefs add vertical height in the water column, crevices and shading for hiding, and surfaces on which epibenthic organisms can colonize and grow. Complex habitats like these often have greater density and diversity of species than a less complex habitat like a flat seafloor. For this reason, oyster cages may be providing benefits similar to those of rock reef habitats. While few studies have investigated aquaculture gear as habitat, extensive anecdotal evidence from commercial shellfish growers suggests that both fish and invertebrates may be using the gear as habitat.