Bioextractive Removal of Nitrogen by Oysters in Great Bay Piscataqua River Estuary, New Hampshire, USA

Suzanne B. Bricker*, Raymond E. Grizzle, Philip Trowbridge, Julie M. Rose, Joao G. Ferreira, Katharine Wellman, Changbo Zhu, Eve Galimany, Gary H. Wikfors, Camille Saurel, Robin Landeck Miller, James Wands, Robert Rheault, Jacob Steinberg, Annie P. Jacob, Erik D. Davenport, Suzanne Ayvazian, Marnita Chintala, Mark A. Tedesco

*Corresponding author for this work

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Eutrophication is a challenge to coastal waters around the globe. In many places, nutrient reductions from land-based sources have not been sufficient to achieve desired water quality improvements. Bivalve shellfish have shown promise as an in-water strategy to complement land-based nutrient management. A local-scale production model was used to estimate oyster (Crassostrea virginica) harvest and bioextraction of nitrogen (N) in Great Bay Piscataqua River Estuary (GBP), New Hampshire, USA, because a system-scale ecological model was not available. Farm-scale N removal results (0.072 metric tons acre−1 year−1) were up-scaled to provide a system-wide removal estimate for current (0.61 metric tons year−1), and potential removal (2.35 metric tons year−1) at maximum possible expansion of licensed aquaculture areas. Restored reef N removal was included to provide a more complete picture. Nitrogen removal through reef sequestration was ~ 3 times that of aquaculture. Estimated reef-associated denitrification, based on previously reported rates, removed 0.19 metric tons N year−1. When all oyster processes (aquaculture and reefs) were included, N removal was 0.33% and 0.54% of incoming N for current and expanded acres, respectively. An avoided cost approach, with wastewater treatment as the alternative management measure, was used to estimate the value of the N removed. The maximum economic value for aquaculture-based removal was $105,000 and $405,000 for current and expanded oyster areas, respectively. Combined aquaculture and reef restoration is suggested to maximize N reduction capacity while limiting use conflicts. Comparison of removal based on per oyster N content suggests much lower removal rates than model results, but model harvest estimates are similar to reported harvest. Though results are specific to GBP, the approach is transferable to estuaries that support bivalve aquaculture but do not have complex system-scale hydrodynamic or ecological models.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEstuaries and Coasts
Pages (from-to)23-38
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Bioextraction
  • Ecosystem service
  • Nutrient removal
  • Economic valuation
  • Oyster production model


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