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Journal of Environmental Quality Abstract - Short Communications

Nutrient Bioassimilation Capacity of Aquacultured Oysters: Quantification of an Ecosystem Service


This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 40 No. 1, p. 271-277
    Received: Apr 29, 2010

    * Corresponding author(s): blbrown@vcu.edu
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  1. Colleen B. Higginsa,
  2. Kurt Stephensonb and
  3. Bonnie L. Brown *c
  1. a Integrative Life Sciences, Virginia Commonwealth Univ., 1000 W. Cary St., Richmond, VA 23284
    b Dep. of Agricultural and Applied Economics, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State Univ., 208 Hutcheson Hall, Blacksburg, VA 24061
    c Dep. of Biology, Virginia Commonwealth Univ., 1000 W. Cary St., Richmond, VA 23284. Assigned to Associate Editor Peter Kleinman


Like many coastal zones and estuaries, the Chesapeake Bay has been severely degraded by cultural eutrophication. Rising implementation costs and difficulty achieving nutrient reduction goals associated with point and nonpoint sources suggests that approaches supplemental to source reductions may prove useful in the future. Enhanced oyster aquaculture has been suggested as one potential policy initiative to help rid the Bay waters of excess nutrients via harvest of bioassimilated nutrients. To assess this potential, total nitrogen (TN), total phosphorous (TP), and total carbon (TC) content were measured in oyster tissue and shell at two floating-raft cultivation sites in the Chesapeake Bay. Models were developed based on the common market measurement of total length (TL) for aquacultured oysters, which was strongly correlated to the TN (R2 = 0.76), TP (R2 = 0.78), and TC (R2 = 0.76) content per oyster tissue and shell. These models provide resource managers with a tool to quantify net nutrient removal. Based on model estimates, 106 harvest-sized oysters (76 mm TL) remove 132 kg TN, 19 kg TP, and 3823 kg TC. In terms of nutrients removed per unit area, oyster harvest is an effective means of nutrient removal compared with other nonpoint source reduction strategies. At a density of 286 oysters m−2, assuming no mortality, harvest size nutrient removal rates can be as high as 378 kg TN ha−1, 54 kg TP ha−1, and 10,934 kg TC ha−1 for 76-mm oysters. Removing 1 t N from the Bay would require harvesting 7.7 million 76-mm TL cultivated oysters.

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