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Benthic culture of sea cucumbers: assessing interactions between cultured and wild populations and the mitigation of environmental impacts in shellfish co-culture



Giant red sea cucumber (Parastichopus californicus)
Photo: C. Pearce (DFO)

In British Columbia, various shellfish and finfish culture proponents are interested in benthic ranching of the native giant red sea cucumber (Parastichopus californicus) underneath existing deep-water aquaculture operations. It is thought that the elevated organic loading – resulting from shellfish faeces or finfish faeces/feed (i.e., food for the sea cucumbers) – underneath these sites will increase the growth/survival rates of the sea cucumbers and, in return, they may help reduce the concentration of the benthic organic material at these sites via their feeding activity. There are concerns, however, regarding the potential risk of harvesting wild sea cucumbers as cultured individuals, as there are currently no mechanisms available to easily distinguish, visually, cultured from wild.

A previous ACRDP project (P-12-01-005) examined the potential interactions between wild and cultured sea cucumbers when using benthic cages to contain the cultured sea cucumbers. The current research project will include an additional six months of field sampling to fully address the effectiveness of these benthic cages in terms of sea cucumber growth/survival and isolating wild from cultured individuals. Further sampling will also be performed to examine the movement of wild sea cucumbers into a removal plot established underneath a shellfish farm, as well as to test any potential change in organic loading in areas with and without benthic-ranched sea cucumbers. The results of this project will address major concerns of Fisheries and Oceans Canada Fisheries Management in the Pacific region in regards to wild/farmed interactions of sea cucumbers, as well as aid in the development of a sustainable method for the culture of these organisms on existing aquaculture sites.

This project supports the environmental performance objective of the Aquaculture Collaborative Research and Development Program (ACRDP), and pertains to the 2014-15 national ACRDP priorities: 1) environmental impacts from aquaculture to the environment by increasing knowledge and understanding of how aquaculture finfish operations impact the environment, and developing the means to manage, mitigate and control these impacts; and 2) wild-farmed interactions: understanding the relationships between cultured and wild species, as well as further understanding relationships between co-cultured species with respect to fish health and environmental performance issues.

Program Name

Aquaculture Collaborative Research and Development Program (ACRDP)


2014 - 2015


Pacific: Vancouver Island West Coast

Principal Investigator(s)

Chris Pearce

Collaborative Partner(s)

Fan Seafoods Ltd.

Viking Bay Ventures

Pacific Sea Cucumbers Harvesters Association


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Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture

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