MEPS 242:237-252 (2002)  -  doi:10.3354/meps242237

Attraction of wild fish to sea-cage fish farms in the south-western Mediterranean Sea: spatial and short-term temporal variability

Tim Dempster1,*, Pablo Sanchez-Jerez2, Just T. Bayle-Sempere2, Francisca Giménez-Casalduero2, Carlos Valle2

1School of Biological Sciences, University of Sydney, New South Wales 2006, Australia
2Unidad de Biología Marina,
Departamento de Ciencias Ambientales y Recursos Naturales, Universidad de Alicante, Ap.C. 99, 03080 Alicante, Spain

ABSTRACT: Aggregations of wild fish were counted around 9 floating sea-cage fish farms along a 300 km stretch of the Spanish coastline in the south-western Mediterranean Sea. Each fish farm cultivated Sparus aurata and Dicentrarchus labrax in 6 to 16 floating sea cages between 10 m and 7.4 km from the coast. During September and October 2001, assemblages of fish were counted on 3 separate days at each of 9 farms. Six 5 min rapid visual counts using SCUBA and covering 11250 m3 were performed within each farm complex and at open water control sites 200 m distant from farms. Abundance (52 to 2837x), biomass (2.8 to 1126x) and number of species (1.6 to 14 x) were greater in fish farm counts than control counts at all locations. Twenty-seven species were recorded at fish farms, with 2 families, Sparidae (12 species) and Carangidae (4 species), being particularly abundant. Over 85% of farm-associated fish were of adult size. Assemblages of wild fish differed greatly between farms separated by 10s to 100s of km, although there was some evidence to suggest that similar assemblages occur at farms separated by 100s of m to several km. Abundance, biomass and number of species differed among fish farms, with all 3 variables negatively correlated with distance of farms from shore and positively correlated with size of farms. Limited variability of wild fish assemblages and abundance of the dominant taxa at each farm among times sampled indicated some degree of temporal stability on a scale of several weeks. Due to the strong aggregative effect of fish farms, possible residence of fishes for periods of weeks to months and the prohibition of fishing within farm leasehold areas, we suggest that coastal sea-cage fish farms may act as small (up to 160000 m2), pelagic marine protected areas (MPAs). Furthermore, at farms where wild fish are abundant, ecological interactions that may influence both wild fish stocks and the impact of farms must be considered.


KEY WORDS: Aquaculture · Wild fish · Fish farm · Sea-cage · Fish Aggregation Device · Marine Protected Area · Mediterranean Sea


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