Addressing Concerns for Water Quality Impacts
from Large-Scale Great Lakes Aquaculture

Based on a Roundtable
Co-hosted by the Habitat Advisory Board of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission
and
the Great Lakes Water Quality Board of the International Joint Commission

August, 1999


Appendix 13

Environmental Assessment Tool for Private Aquaculture in the Great Lakes Basin: Summary of a WORKING DRAFT

by Anne R. Kapuscinski and Deborah J. Brister
Department of Fisheries and Wildlife and Institute for Social, Economic, and Ecological Sustainability (ISEES), University of Minnesota
E-mail: ark@fw.umn.edu, brist004@tc.umn.edu

Introduction

An increasing interest in aquaculture development in the Great Lakes region has prompted the Great Lakes Fishery Commission's Council of Lake committees (CLC) to seek development of a model management program for private aquaculture. Towards this goal, Professor Anne Kapuscinski and her graduate student, Deborah Brister, are developing an aquaculture environmental assessment tool that is user-friendly, interactive, and addresses lake-based, land-based, and secured aquaculture systems.

Environmental Assessment Tool

The Environmental Assessment Tool will include three interrelated components to guide case-specific review of each aquaculture operation. First, a computerized Assessment Pathway guides the user through assessment of potential environmental effects. The user answers a series of carefully worded questions about the species (including genetic strains) and the accessible aquatic ecosystem, identifying whether or not the aquaculture operation under review poses any specific risks. Should any risks be identified, the user is led to consider risk management measures, including culture methods, facilities design and operations management. This would include whether or not measures capable of managing the identified risk currently exist. Second, the Supporting Text provides: scientific background, including citations of relevant documents, for the questions and alternative decisions in the assessment pathway; more detailed risk management recommendations; a glossary of scientific terms; and other relevant appendices. Third, the Summary Documentation automatically traces the user's path through the computerized Assessment Pathway and prompts the user to describe the rationale for any selected risk management measures. The Summary Documentation provides transparent documentation of the assessment process, thus helping to keep aquaculturists, government regulators, and interested citizens equally informed and to reduce conflict in some cases.

Overview of Environmental Assessment Tool

Determination of Assessment Pathway

The pathway is determined by questions that ask: type of organisms to be cultured (fish, shellfish or plant), collection and/or growout methods of organisms, and location (Great Lakes-based or land-based facilities). Lakes-based projects involving species other than those that are indigenous or naturalized in the Great Lakes will be directed to consult with relevant agencies, according to the Introductions in the Great Lakes Basin Procedures for Consultation (Council of Lake Committees 1992), before proceeding further. Below is an overview of one of the pathways in the environmental assessment tool.

Assessment of Great Lakes-based Aquaculture Systems

Assessment of Suitable Environment

These questions assist the user in identifying whether an organism can survive and thrive in the surrounding aquatic ecosystem.. The structural integrity of the facility is also considered here. Important factors include temperature, pH, degree of ice cover, wave heights, and currents (Beveridge 1996). Additional factors are considered in later assessments.

Genetic Effects

These questions assist the user in identifying whether an organism has been genetically engineered (deliberate gene changes, deliberate chromosomal manipulations or interspecific hybridization). Projects involving genetically engineered organisms are directed to the Manual for Assessing Ecological and Human Health Effects of Genetically Engineered Organisms (Scientists' Working Group on Biosafety 1998). This manual is appropriate for assessing commercial-scale aquaculture of genetically engineered animals or plants. It is an expanded version of the Performance Standards for Safely Conducting Research with Genetically Modified Fish and Shellfish (ABRAC 1995). Questions will also assist the user in assessing effects on the genetic makeup and fitness of wild populations due to interbreeding with escaped aquaculture organisms derived from non-local genetic sources. The user is asked about known genetically distinct populations, sources of cultured organisms, and feasibility of sterilizing cultured organisms.

Disease Effects

These questions assist the user in identifying whether the cultured organisms have been certified to be free of emergency or restricted pathogens. If cultured organisms are salmonids, the user is instructed to evaluate the broodstock or production stock with the Great Lakes Fish Disease Control Policy and Model Program (Hnath 1993). The user is also asked if emergency or restricted pathogens have been identified in wild fish populations in surrounding waters. These questions aim to minimize the possibility of spreading disease to cultured fish and further contaminating wild fish.

Impacts on Recovery or Rehabilitation Plans

These questions assist the user in identifying whether the cultured organisms or the facility could harm any listed Endangered, Threatened, Special Concern, or Vulnerable species. The user is asked to identify species at risk and determine, with the assistance of the appropriate government agency, whether the cultured organism or the facility may adversely affect the species at risk. Questions also prompt the user to consider other recovery or rehabilitation plans that may be affected, e.g., recovery of wild lake sturgeon in Lake Ontario (Orsatti et al. 1998).

Impacts on Areas of Concern

These questions assist the user in identifying whether the cultured organisms or the facility could harm Areas of Concern designated by the International Joint Commission. Clean-up and restoration plans have been identified in 42 areas of the Great Lakes (International Joint Commission 1987). The user is asked to determine proximity to Areas of Concern and possible effects on any recovery plans that include fish and wildlife rehabilitation, improvement of degraded benthos, or remediation of eutrophication or undesirable algae.

Effects of Settleable Solids on Benthos and Shellfish

These questions assist the user in identifying whether the cultured organisms or the facility could adversely affect benthic species or shellfish beds. Excessive wastes from culture facilities may cause smothering of benthic environments, a buildup of contaminants within the sediments, promote a higher level of resistant bacteria, change sediment chemistry, deplete oxygen levels, and cause a shift in community structure of benthic species (Weston 1990; Gowen et al. 1994; Silvert 1994; Sowles et al. 1994; Beveridge 1996). Shellfish also may be vulnerable to contaminants and smothering. The user will be asked questions that help identify vulnerable benthic areas and significant shellfish beds. This section will also ask questions about the aquaculture facility's potential exposure to fouling agents (e.g., zebra mussels).

Impacts on Breeding Areas, Nurseries, and Fish-eating Animals

These questions assist the user in identifying whether the cultured organisms or the facility could harm breeding or nursery areas of wild organisms. Proximity to these areas will be the most important issue. The user is asked questions that will assist in identifying areas that are vulnerable. Questions also consider effects on fish-eating mammals and birds.

Cumulative Impacts due to Proximity to other Aquaculture Facilities

These questions assist the user in identifying whether the culture operation could adversely affect wild populations and pre-existing aquaculture operations through a higher cumulative waste load that could decrease dissolved oxygen levels and increase dissolved nutrients, thus promoting eutrophication. The objective of these questions is to assess cumulative impacts.

Impacts of Facility and Infrastructure

These questions assist the user in identifying whether the facility or its related infrastructure (e.g., construction of additional buildings or roads) could harm habitats for species at risk, or fisheries and wildlife restoration/rehabilitation projects listed in the Lake Community Objectives. Users are directed to suggested agencies to make these determinations.

Effects on Other Lake Users

These questions assist the user in identifying whether the facility or its related infrastructure are located in areas that may affect other lake users. Potential impacts on culturally, historically or navigationally sensitive sites are also considered. Users are prompted to refer to suggested agencies to make these determinations.

Risk Management Measures

This section helps the user to develop feasible ways of reducing or preventing specific environmental problems identified in the above assessments. Measures could also include the development of an emergency response plan, a fish disposal plan, and a fish-eating predator prevention plan.

References

Agricultural Biotechnology Research Advisory Committee (ABRAC) Working Group on Aquatic Biotechnology and Environmental Safety. 1995. Performance Standards for Safely Conducting Research with Genetically Modified Fish and Shellfish. Parts I and II. United States Department of Agriculture, Office of Agricultural Biotechnology, Documents No. 95-04 and 95-05. Washington, D.C. (available on the Internet at: http://www.usda.gov/agencies/biotech/ac21.html).

Beveridge, M.C.M.. 1996. Cage Aquaculture, second edition. Fishing News Books, Oxford . Council of Lake Committees. 1992. Introductions in the Great Lakes Basin Procedures for Consultation. Great Lakes Fishery Commission, Ann Arbor MI. (e-mail: mgaden@glfc.org)

Gowen, R., D. Smyth, and W. Silvert. 1994. Modeling the spatial distribution and loading of organic fish farm waste to the seabed. Pp. 19-30 IN B.T. Hargrave, editor. Modeling benthic impacts of organic enrichment from marine aquaculture. Can. Tech Rep. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 1949, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Nova Scotia.

Hnath, J. 1993. Great Lakes fish disease control policy and model program (supersedes September 1985 edition). Great Lakes Fishery Commission Spec. Pub. 93-1: 1-38. (available on the Internet at: www.glfc.org/pubs/sp93-1.zip)

Horner, R. and R. Eshenroder. 1993. Protocol to minimize the risk of introducing emergency disease agents with importation of salmonid fishes form enzootic areas. Great Lakes Fishery Commission Spec. Pub. 93-1: 39-54. (available on the Internet at: www.glfc.org/pubs/sp93-1.zip)

International Joint Commission.. 1987. Forty-Three Areas of Concern. Environment Canada. (available on the Internet at: http://www.on.ec.gc.ca/water/raps/)

Levings, C.D., A. Ervik, P. Johannessen and J. Aure. 1995. Ecological criteria used to help site fish farms in fjords. Estuaries 18:81-90.

Orsatti, S., B. Lange, T. Stewart, C. Schneider, A. Mathers, and M. Daniels. 1998. Fish Community Objectives for Lake Ontario Final Draft. Report to the Lake Ontario Committee. Great Lakes Fishery Commission. (e-mail: mgaden@glfc.org)

Scientists' Working Group on Biosafety. 1998. A Manual for Assessing Ecological and Human Health Effects of Genetically Engineered Organisms. Volumes 1 and 2. Edmonds Institute, 20319-92nd Ave. West, Edmonds, WA 98020, USA. (available on the Internet at www.edmonds-institute.org).

Silvert, W. 1994. Modeling benthic deposition and impacts of organic matter loading. Pages 1-18 in B.T. Hargrave, editor. Modeling benthic impacts of organic enrichment from marine aquaculture. Can. Tech Rep. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 1949, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Nova Scotia.

Sowles, J.W., L. Churchill, and W. Silvert. 1994. The effect of benthic carbon loading on the degradation of bottom conditions under farm sites. Pages 31-46 in B.T. Hargrave, editor. Modeling benthic impacts of organic enrichment from marine aquaculture. Can. Tech Rep. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 1949, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Nova Scotia.

Weston, D.P. 1990. Quantitative examination of macrobenthic community changes along an organic enrichment gradient. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 61: 233-244.