California sea cucumber (Apostichopus californicus) abundance and movement on a commercial shellfish aquaculture farm




Curtis, Daniel L.
Pearce, Christopher M.
van Dam-Bates, Paul
Duprey, Nicholas M. T.
Cross, Stephen F.
Cowen, Laura L.E.

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California sea cucumbers (Apostichopus californicus) are often abundant at oyster farms in British Columbia, Canada both on the suspended gear as juveniles and on the seafloor beneath them as a mixture of juveniles and adults. Their natural abundance, high value, and potential to mitigate benthic organic loading has led to an interest in their coculture with oysters. Whether farmed sea cucumbers ought to be contained to physically separate them from wild stocks is debated. The present three-year field study examined the movement of wild California sea cucumbers on/off an operational oyster farm (~3000 m²) to help inform future sea cucumber aquaculture development. Sea cucumber effects on organic loading, immigration to/emigration from the farm, and the efficacy of various containment-material mesh types and sizes were examined. Juvenile and adult sea cucumber densities on the farm steadily increased from the end of winter through the end of summer, likely due in large part to juveniles falling off the suspended oyster gear, which occurred at an average rate of ~780 ind d⁻¹ (for the whole farm) in the summer months. The largest increase in abundance on the farm was observed between January and March/April, when the population increased by 100–350 ind d⁻¹. Between late summer and early winter, sea cucumbers emigrated from the farm at a rate of 50–90 ind d⁻¹, neither juvenile nor adult densities on the farm changing appreciably over the winter. The sea cucumber density showed a progressive decrease in the first 20 m from the farm, after which the animals were scarcely noticed. Apostichopus californicus did not significantly decrease sediment organics beneath the farm compared to a nearby control site, but such an effect may have been lost due to their seasonal feeding cycles and/or the presence of other benthic grazers that were not part of our exclusion trial. Overall, our findings suggest that the separation of farmed and wild California sea cucumbers on a shellfish farm can only be guaranteed through containment, given the dynamic immigration and emigration patterns of wild stocks. Through laboratory trials, we found that individuals of A. californicus were able to squeeze through mesh as small as 32% of their contracted width and could escape fenced areas (90 ± 4% escape from nylon fencing and 40 ± 8% escape from Vexar™ fencing) unless the fencing extended above the water surface (where there was no escape from either type).



dive survey, Holothuroid, movement, ocean ranching, sedimentation


Curtis, D. L., Pearce, C. M., van Dam-Bates, P., Duprey, N. M., Cross, S. F., & Cowen, L. L. (2023). California sea cucumber (Apostichopus californicus) abundance and movement on a commercial shellfish aquaculture farm. Diversity, 15(8), 940.