Milford Lab's GoPro Aquaculture Project
Understanding interactions between shellfish aquaculture gear and the environment
To determine if oyster cages used in shellfish aquaculture provide habitat similar to that of naturally occurring rock reef environments and if cage densities associated with shellfish farming attract fish differently than single cages in low relief areas.
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 the biology, ecology, and habitat of an ecosystem. Off-bottom oyster cages are growing in popularity as a method for culturing large numbers of oysters in a small footprint. These cages create complex 3-dimensional structure 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. Understanding if and how oyster cages function like naturally occurring habitats may help with regulatory and permitting processes when siting new shellfish farms.
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. Because of this, oyster cages may be providing benefits similar to those of rock reef habitats. While there is limited scientific data available on aquaculture gear as habitat, extensive anecdotal evidence from commercial shellfish growers suggests that both fish and invertebrates may be using the gear as habitat.
We're conducting a series of field experiments to better understand how fish interact with oyster cages used in shellfish aquaculture farming operations.