Biological fouling organisms on fish cages represent a major issue and costly factor in marine finfish aquaculture. Cnidarians have been identified as one of the most problematical groups, contributing significantly to the occlusion and structural stress of the cage nets, but also dramatically affecting farmed species health in aquaculture facilities worldwide. Recently, significant relationships were established in different Spanish aquaculture facilities between hydrozoans and juvenile fish affected by gill injuries and mortality episodes. Community composition, growth rate and reproductive potential of biofouling were monitored on fish cages over two seasonal periods of fry cages farming, located in southern Spain (SW Alboran Sea), with a special focus on cnidarians. Biomass and community composition of biofouling changed with time and between studied periods, with a marked seasonality in colonization periods and taxonomic composition, particularly for the colonial hydrozoans. The hydroids Ectopleura larynx
and Pennaria disticha
were found at the highest densities. P. disticha
was responsible for major biomass contribution to total hydroid biomass with the fastest growth rates. In addition, actinulae larvae of E. larynx
were identified in zooplankton samples at high densities especially during periods of fry introduction in sea cages (when fish are highly vulnerable). These results corroborate evidence of the detrimental influence of fouling cnidarians in Mediterranean finfish aquaculture due to a direct harmful impact on fish health. Investigations on population dynamics, reproductive biology and envenomation potential of fouling hydrozoans should be regarded as key component of best monitoring practices to ensure good farmed fish welfare, maximization of aquaculture production and overall marine spatial planning.
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