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Aquaculture Environment Interactions

    AEI prepress abstract   -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/aei00381

    On the edge: assessing fish habitat use across the boundary between Pacific oyster aquaculture and eelgrass in Willapa Bay, Washington, USA

    Kelly A. Muething*, Fiona Tomas, George Waldbusser, Brett R. Dumbauld

    *Corresponding author:

    ABSTRACT: Estuaries are subject to diverse anthropogenic stressors, including shellfish aquaculture, as it involves extensive use of estuarine tidelands. Pacific oyster Crassostrea gigas aquaculture is a century-old practice in US west coast estuaries that significantly contributes to the regional culture and economy. Native eelgrass Zostera marina also commonly occurs in intertidal areas where oyster aquaculture is practiced. Eelgrass is federally protected in the USA as ‘essential fish habitat’, restricting aquaculture activities within or near eelgrass. To contribute scientific information useful for management decisions, we sought to compare fish habitat use of oyster aquaculture and eelgrass, as well as the edges between these 2 habitats in Willapa Bay, Washington, USA. Furthermore, given a recent shift towards off-bottom culture methods, in part to protect seagrasses, long-line and on-bottom oyster aquaculture habitats were compared. A combination of direct (underwater video, minnow traps) and indirect (predation tethering units, eelgrass surveys) methods were employed to characterize differences in fish habitat use. Eelgrass density declined within both aquaculture habitats but less so within long-line aquaculture. Most fish species in our study used long-line oyster aquaculture and eelgrass habitats similarly with minimal edge effects, and on-bottom aquaculture was used less than either of the other 2 habitat types. These results are consistent with previously observed positive relationships between fish abundance and vertical habitat structure but also reveal species-specific behavior; larger mesopredators like Pacific staghorn sculpins were sighted more often in aquaculture than in interior eelgrass habitats.