Complex interactions mediate the effects of fish farming on benthic chemistry within a region of Scotland

Daniel J. Mayor, Martin Solan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


Fish farms typically generate a localised gradient of both organic and inorganic pollutants in the underlying sediments. The factors governing the extent of such impacts remain poorly understood, particularly when multiple sites are considered. We used regression-type techniques to examine the drivers of sediment chemistry patterns around five Scottish fish farms that ranged in size (120-2106 tonnes) and fish species, but were located within <40 km of each other. Correlations between observations made at the same farm illustrate that between-site variability can be high, even at this regional-scale. These effects must be accounted for when comparing the effects of fish farming at different locations. All measured chemical parameters declined rapidly as a function of distance from the cage edge, with the rate of decline depending on local current speeds. Only phosphorus concentrations increased directly with farm size. Increasing current speeds at farms <900 tonnes reduced the accumulation of organic carbon in the underlying sediments, whereas the opposite occurred at larger farms. The counterintuitive effect of current speed at farms above the threshold size suggests that the physical properties of the seabed at these locations favour the accumulation of organic wastes and/or that the underlying communities have a lower assimilative capacity. These imply that the environmental efficiency of fish farming activities may be further optimised by taking into account the interaction between current speed, substrate complexity and the functional characteristics of the benthos. Collectively, our analyses demonstrate that the fate of fish farm-derived wastes is complex and highlight the need for site-specific management techniques. (C) 2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)635-642
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental Research
Issue number5
Early online date15 Apr 2011
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2011


  • aquaculture
  • cod
  • salmon
  • environmental management
  • sustainability
  • marine-sediments
  • organic enrichment
  • Atlantic salmon
  • copper
  • environment
  • impact
  • carbon
  • phosphorus
  • nitrogen


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