Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Washington
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Washington Project


Habitat function of shellfish aquaculture ecosystems: developing new technology to understand species use of nearshore habitats

April 2021 - September 2022


Personnel

Participating Agencies

  • Northwest Fisheries Science Center

Washington is the nation’s leading producer of farmed clams, oysters, and mussels, contributing approximately $184 million to the State economy, supporting over 1,900 jobs, and supplying fresh shellfish to consumers around the globe. With such high cultural, economic, and ecological value, there is substantial demand for growth within the shellfish aquaculture industry. A key impediment to the sustainable expansion of shellfish aquaculture is understanding the ecological implications of converting nearshore habitat to shellfish production. Understanding how shellfish aquaculture functions as nearshore habitat, relative to uncultivated areas, will help resource managers overcome this barrier and assess potential tradeoffs when planning the sustainable expansion of shellfish aquaculture. To better understand the ecological functions of these habitats, we need to examine not only which species are present, but how those species use each habitat. The goal of this study is to quantify the impacts (positive, negative, neutral) of shellfish aquaculture on foraging experiences of fish and crabs. We will collaborate with the National Marine Fisheries Service to examine (1) feeding behavior of these organisms using an extensive dataset of underwater video and (2) their trophic ecology (diets, isotopes) by sampling sites within the Salish Sea. Results from this work will inform decisions about the introduction of aquaculture in a system comprised of a diversity of seascapes and where considerable management attention is invested in conserving species that rely on nearshore waters and their essential habitats.