Flow of organic carbon (OC) and nitrogen through a sea cage trout farm was calculated on the basis of detailed studies of the farming operation, water circulation, OC and nutrient transport and recycling processes in sediment. A third of the OC and nitrogen provided by fish food was incorporated into fish biomass, which is more than has been found in previous studies. Most OC input was respired by the fish (52 to 70%), and similar to 63% of the associated nitrogen was lost as dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN), potentially stimulating pelagic primary production. Approx. 6% of carbon and 5% of nitrogen derived from fish food settled on the seabed, where it was either mineralized or accumulated in the sediment. Based on transect measurements of diagenetic activity, the farm footprint was found to cover an area similar to 10 times the farm area. OC mineralization in the sediment increased linearly with increasing food input; the divergence between carbon efflux and oxygen uptake in sediment likewise increased with increasing food input, reflecting an increasing level of sediment reduction. Directly below the farm, the dissolved organic carbon (DOC) efflux was high (on average 53% of dissolved inorganic carbon efflux), indicating that DOC efflux is an important pathway for benthic carbon release below aquaculture farms. Overall, microbial processes removed 56 and 38% of OC and nitrogen, respectively, that settled to the seabed. During a 39 d break in farming activity, due to the combined effect of mineralization and resuspension of surface sediment, sediment conditions improved considerably.
Marine Ecology - Progress Series, 2011, Vol 431, p. 223-241