Nitrogen removal potential of shellfish aquaculture harvests in eastern Canada: A comparison of culture methods

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Bivalve farming can contribute to nutrient removal in coastal and estuarine systems, as bivalves directly incorporate nutrients into their tissues and shells. We conducted a meta-analysis to compare the nitrogen removal potential (NRP; i.e., percentage of nitrogen in tissues and shells) of mussels, Mytilus edulis, and oysters, Crassostrea virginica. We then used species-specific NRPs to determine and compare the total and per-hectare NRPs for four shellfish aquaculture methods used in two Atlantic Canadian provinces – New Brunswick (NB) and Prince Edward Island (PEI) – based on current harvest biomasses. Finally, we determined the contribution of current shellfish farming to nitrogen load mitigation for a subset of bays in NB and PEI. Results revealed that on a per-weight basis, NRP was similar for the tissues of mussels and oysters, while mussel shells had a significantly higher percentage of nitrogen than oyster shells. Collectively, shellfish harvesting has the capacity to remove a mean annual total of 99088 kg and 204571 kg of nitrogen from NB and PEI, respectively. Given current harvesting practices for four culture methods employed in the region, suspended mussel culture provides the greatest NRP per hectare of farm area, followed in sequence by suspended mussel and oyster mixed culture, suspended oyster culture, and bottom oyster culture. Preliminary analysis suggested that harvests in the region typically remove <10% of the total nitrogen load on the bay scale, with the exception of bays where nitrogen loads are low and farming intensity is high (where shellfish harvesting can remove higher percentages of nitrogen loads). Ultimately, harvests from shellfish farming in NB and PEI have the capacity to remove substantial amounts of nitrogen from local bays. Future studies assessing the influence of shellfish farming on full nutrient budgets across bays with varying physicochemical conditions will enhance our understanding the role of shellfish farms in nearshore nutrient dynamics, both regionally and globally.




Clements, J. C., & Comeau, L. A. (2019). Nitrogen removal potential of shellfish aquaculture harvests in eastern Canada: A comparison of culture methods. Aquaculture Reports, 13.

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