The effect of embayment complexity on ecological carrying capacity estimations in bivalve aquaculture sites

Ramón Filgueira, Thomas Guyondet, Pramod Thupaki, Takashi Sakamaki, Jon Grant

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Bivalve aquaculture requires the alteration of natural populations of filter-feeders by artificially increasing their density. A bivalve farm could have negative consequences for the ecosystem if the filtration pressure of stocked biomass surpasses the capacity of the system to replenish the depleted resources. The concept of ecological carrying capacity, understood as the magnitude of aquaculture activity in a given area that can be supported without leading to unacceptable changes in the aquatic environment, is commonly used to inform management and regulatory decisions of bivalve aquaculture. In this study, a hydrodynamic model has been coupled to an ecological model that simulates the main dynamics of organic seston to evaluate the effects of bivalve aquaculture on seston supply and assess ecological carrying capacity. The spatially-explicit model allows the identification of areas where organic seston could be reduced beyond precautionary thresholds of ecosystem resilience. The model has been applied to three coastal embayments in Nova Scotia (Canada) that differ in water circulation and inlet/coastal complexity. The outcomes of the model suggest that the current aquaculture operations in Sober Island, Wine Harbour, and Whitehead are within the ecological carrying capacity of the ecosystem for bivalve aquaculture. The simulation of additional hypothetical stocking scenarios had demonstrated the relevance of local water circulation to the ecological carrying capacity of the system, and consequently for aquaculture operations. Accordingly, the placement of leases in areas with optimal circulation should be considered for planning purposes. The capability of the model to explore hypothetical scenarios could be used as a tool to guide management decisions in regard to site selection for new aquaculture sites.

Original languageEnglish
Article number125739
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Mar 15


  • Aquaculture
  • Ecological carrying capacity
  • Modelling
  • Oyster


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