Document Type



Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Publication Date



To better quantify the ecological benefits and impacts of oyster aquaculture, we sampled water quality, sediment quality, benthic macrofaunal communities and oysters at four oyster aquaculture sites located on the western shore of Chesapeake Bay in Virginia, USA. At each site, we collected samples from within the footprint of the aquaculture cages and from nearby areas with similar physical and environmental conditions but far enough away to be minimally influenced by aquaculture operations. Data collected from the water column included chlorophyll concentrations, turbidity, pH, dissolved oxygen concentrations, light attenuation, particle concentration, median particle size, total suspended solids and their organic content, and dissolved nutrient concentrations. Sediment and macrofauna community data collected included sediment grain size and organic content and macrofauna identity, abundance, biomass and species richness. In addition to assessing the potential impacts of oyster aquaculture on the water column and benthos, we also assessed differences in the oysters harvested Environmental and ecological benefits and impacts of oyster aquaculture at each site and estimated the total amount of nitrogen and phosphorus harvested at each site. Differences in water quality, sediment quality, and macrofauna community structure between areas within and outside the farm footprint were rare and of small magnitude and varying direction (i.e. negative versus positive impact) when they did occur. Aquaculture sites varied by an order of magnitude in size, annual harvest and harvest per unit area. They also varied by an order of magnitude in the total amount of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) harvested per unit area. In contrast to the negative environmental impacts associated with other forms of animal protein production for human consumption, oyster harvest from aquaculture sites studied here resulted in the removal of 21-372 lbs. of N and 3-49lbs of P per farm per year.


A final report to The Nature Conservancy.



Oyster culture; Chesapeake Bay



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