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Research Document - 2006/036

Shellfish Aquaculture and Marine Habitat Sensitivity Case Studies

By Vandermeulen, H., G. Jamieson, M. Ouellette


The definition of ‘habitat sensitivity’ used in this paper follows the ICES (2002) definition - "Habitat sensitivity can be defined in relation to the degree and duration of damage caused by a specified external factor. Sensitivity may refer to structural fragility of the entire habitat in relation to a physical impact, or to intolerance of individual species comprising the habitat to environmental factors, such as exposure, salinity fluctuations or temperature variation."

The ‘specified external factor’ in this case is shellfish aquaculture, and the ‘sensitivity’ of marine habitats to this factor is explored via three case studies (eelgrass, large scale intertidal soft bottom and a shallow bay).

Present shellfish aquaculture practices in Canada have the potential to negatively impact sensitive marine habitats. However, these effects can be controlled by managing the intensity of shellfish aquaculture activities on a bay wide scale. Adaptive management informed by ongoing monitoring offers the best route to control the cumulative impacts associated with this industry. The proposed bay wide management scheme offers a positive economic incentive to the industry, as the same cumulative impacts which harm sensitive habitat are those which act as a ‘feed back loop’ to reduce shellfish production (i.e. exceeding the carrying capacity of the local environment to support maximum growth rates of shellfish).

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