Amplified recruitment pressure of biofouling organisms in commercial salmon farms: potential causes and implications for farm management

The development of biofouling on finfish aquaculture farms presents challenges for the industry, but the factors underlying nuisance growths are still not well understood. Artificial settlement surfaces were used to examine two possible explanations for high rates of biofouling in Norwegian salmon farms: (1) increased propagule release during net cleaning operations, resulting in elevated recruitment rates; and (2) potential reservoir effects of farm surfaces. The presence of salmon farms was associated with consistently and substantially (up to 49-fold) elevated recruitment rates. Temporal patterns of recruitment were not driven by net cleaning. Resident populations of biofouling organisms were encountered on all submerged farm surfaces. Calculations indicate that a resident population of the hydroid Ectopleura larynx, a major biofouling species, could release between 0.3 × 109 and 4.7 × 109 larvae per farm annually. Such resident populations could form propagule reservoirs and be one explanation for the elevated recruitment pressure at salmon farms.