Environmental impact of salmon net-pen culture on marine benthic communities in Maine: A case study
- Cite this article as:
- Findlay, R.H., Watling, L. & Mayer, L.M. Estuaries (1995) 18: 145. doi:10.2307/1352289
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The environmental impacts of salmon net-pen aquaculture on the benthic environment were investigated at a commercial fish farm located in coastal Maine waters. This site has a sandy mud bottom and low current velocities, is subjected to episodic sediment resuspension, and way in production for 3 yr prior to this study: We examined both the increase in carbon flux to the benthos caused by the net-pen and the effects of the elevated flux on sediment biogeochemistry and the microbenthic communities. The experimental design involved the establishment of two study sites, an ambient site ca. 100 m from the net-pen and a treatment site around the pen. Sediment traps deployed 1 m above the sediment-water interface indicated that carbon flux to the benthos was increased 1-fold to 6-fold (to a maximum of 5 g m−2d−1) at the edge of the net-pen with little or no increase in carbon flux 10 m from the pen. Unlike carbon flux rates, sediment organic matter inventories showed a complex pattern of change over time. Mineral surface area, organic carbon and nitrogen, digestible protein, and sterol content were initially (April 1991) lower beneath the pen than in ambient sediments. During 1991 ambient sediment accumulated organic matter until July after which it decreased, to a low during November. In contrast, organic matter inventories of sediment beneath the pen remained low until July and then increased to a high during November. These latter gains were associated with the development of bacterial mats at the sediment-water interface. Beneath the pen, microbial and macrofaunal communities were shifted toward those commonly associated with organic enrichment but seasonal trends and storm-related resuspension events also significantly affected these sediment communities. When abundant, most epibenthic organisms were more numerous near the pen than in adjacent ambient areas. These results suggest that net-pen aquaculture can alter the benthic ecosystem in Maine Coastal waters but indicate that the effects are spatially limited.