AEI 1:57-70 (2010)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/aei00007

Environmental issues of fish farming in offshore waters: perspectives, concerns and research needs

Marianne Holmer*

Institute of Biology, University of Southern Denmark, Campusvej 55, DK-5230 Odense M, Denmark

ABSTRACT: Offshore fish farming is predicted to increase in the near future driven by the lack of coastal space. In this review I discuss the environmental issues of offshore farming from experience in coastal farms. Even more so than in coastal farms, a rapid and wide dispersal of dissolved waste products is predicted for offshore farms. Despite wider dispersal of particulate waste products, fast sinking rates of feed pellets and faeces suggest organic enrichment of the bottom sediments in farm vicinities (hundreds of meters), although at lower loading rates than coastal farms. The benthic response to organic enrichment is unpredictable due to lack of knowledge from shelf areas. Most shelf sediments are considered carbon limited and fish farm waste products may stimulate the benthic communities, but due to the sparse abundance and absence of pollutant-tolerant benthic fauna, the capacity of benthic communities to assimilate organic matter may be limited. Instead, microbial decomposition of waste products could become important, leading to increased oxygen demand and accumulation of sulfides in the sediments. This may negatively affect benthic biodiversity. Interactions with wild fish (aggregation, genetic impacts, spreading of disease and parasites) are expected, but difficult to predict, as the composition of species attracted to offshore farms will be different from that of species attracted to coastal farms. Escapees are potentially a high risk due to farm failure under rough weather conditions in the open sea. The carbon footprint of farming offshore will increase (transportation) and the ecological footprint (fishing feed) will remain a severe constraint, as in coastal farming. Offshore farming is subject to high costs of operation, including those for monitoring environmental conditions. Research should focus on interactions with wild fish populations, mapping of sensitive benthic habitats and experimental studies of the response of benthic habitats to organic enrichments.


KEY WORDS: Mariculture · Environment · Sediments · Benthic fauna · Wild fish · Nutrients


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Cite this article as: Holmer M (2010) Environmental issues of fish farming in offshore waters: perspectives, concerns and research needs. Aquacult Environ Interact 1:57-70. https://doi.org/10.3354/aei00007

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