Effects of off-bottom shellfish aquaculture on winter habitat use by molluscivorous sea ducks

TitleEffects of off-bottom shellfish aquaculture on winter habitat use by molluscivorous sea ducks
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2009
AuthorsŽydelis, R, Esler, D, Kirk, M, W. Boyd, S
JournalAquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems
Pagination34 - 42
Date Published09/2009
ISBN Number1052-7613
KeywordsBarrow's goldeneye, British Columbia, Bucephala islandica, Habitat Use, Melanitta perspicillata, sea ducks, shellfish aquaculture, surf scoter
  1. Shellfish farming is an expanding segment of marine aquaculture, but environmental effects of this industry are only beginning to be considered.
  2. The interaction between off‐bottom, suspended oyster farming and wintering sea ducks in coastal British Columbia was studied. Specifically, the habitat use of surf scoters (Melanitta perspicillata) and Barrow's goldeneyes (Bucephala islandica), the most abundant sea duck species in the study area, was evaluated in relation to natural environmental attributes and shellfish aquaculture.
  3. The extent of shellfish farming was the best‐supported habitat variable explaining variation in surf scoter densities, and the only habitat attribute from the considered set that was a strong predictor of Barrow's goldeneye densities. In both cases, the findings indicated strong positive relationships between densities of sea ducks and shellfish aquaculture operations. These relationships are presumably the result of large numbers of wild mussels (Mytilus trossulus) that settle and grow on aquaculture structures and are preferred prey of these sea ducks.
  4. Previous work has shown that aquaculture structures provide good conditions for recruiting and growing mussels, including refuge from invertebrate predators, which in turn provides higher densities of higher quality prey for sea ducks than available in intertidal areas. This offers a rare example in which introduction of an industry leads to positive effects on wildlife populations, which is particularly important given persistent declines in numbers of many sea ducks.
Short TitleAquatic Conserv: Mar. Freshw. Ecosyst.