The carrying capacity concept for bivalve aquaculture is used to assess
production potential of culture areas, and to address possible effects of the culture for the environment and for other users. Production potential is depending on physical and production carrying capacity of the ecosystem, while ecological and social carrying capacity determine to what extent the production capacity can be realized. According to current definitions, the ecological carrying capacity is the stocking or farm density of the exploited population above which unacceptable environmental impacts become apparent, and the social capacity is the level of farm development above which unacceptable social impacts are manifested. It can be disputed to what extent social and ecological capacities differ, as unacceptable impacts are social constructs. In the approach of carrying capacity, focus is often on avoiding adverse impacts of bivalve aquaculture. However, bivalve populations also have positive impacts on the ecosystem, such as stimulation of primary production through filtration and nutrient regeneration. These ecosystem services deserve more attention in proper estimation of carrying capacity and therefore we focus on both positive and
negative feedbacks by the bivalves on the ecosystem. We review tools that are available to quantify carrying capacity. This varies from simple indices to complex models. We present case studies of the use of clearance and grazing ratio’s as simple carrying capacity indices. Applications depend on specific management questions in the respective areas, the availability of data and the type of decisions that need to be made. For making decisions on bivalve aquaculture, standards, threshold values or levels of acceptable change (LAC) are used. The FAO framework for aquaculture is formulated as The Ecosystem Approach to Aquaculture. It implies stakeholder involvement, and a carrying capacity management where commercial stocks attribute in a balanced way to production, ecological and social goals. Simulation models are being developed as tools to predict the integrated effect of various levels of bivalve aquaculture for specific management goals, such as improved ecosystem resilience. In practice, bivalve aquaculture management is confronted with different competing stocks of cultured, wild, restoration and invasive origin. Scenario models have been reviewed that are used for finding the balance between maximizing production capacity and optimizing ecological carrying capacity in areas with bivalve aquaculture.