Fisheries Research Articles

Factors influencing the dynamics of a collapsed blue swimmer crab (Portunus armatus) population and its lack of recovery

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Fisheries Research




Environmental productivity; Depensation; Fishing mortality; State-space production models; Temperate embayment


Aquaculture and Fisheries | Marine Biology


Identification of key drivers of population dynamics and prediction of rates of population recovery following stock decline are crucial aspects of fisheries management. The abundance of a blue swimmer crab population (Portunus armatus) in Cockburn Sound, Western Australia, which once supported the largest commercial fishery for this short-lived species in the State, declined markedly and has remained low despite two commercial fishery closures. This study employed state-space biomass dynamics models to explore evidence for potential factors contributing to the lack of stock recovery, including fishing pressure, changes in primary production (using chlorophyll-a as a proxy) and depensatory stock-recruitment dynamics. Likelihood ratio test results indicated better statistical fits for models with production functions modified to account for chlorophyll-a or both depensation and chlorophyll-a. Models incorporating both depensation and chlorophyll-a provided the most biologically-feasible results (e.g. estimated intrinsic increase, ��, not near zero) and the estimated biomass trajectories were less uncertain. For all models, estimated annual harvest rates peaked in the late 1990s, prior to the first major stock decline, and again in 2009−12, when the fishery was briefly re-opened with tight management restrictions. Results for models including both depensation and chlorophyll-a indicated that stock productivity is positively-related to chlorophyll-a. Thus, below-average chlorophyll-a concentrations in Cockburn Sound in recent years, in combination with some form(s) of depensation (e.g. associated with predation pressure), may be preventing stock recovery. Despite a sustained period of very limited recreational fishing and no commercial fishing, stock recovery appears highly uncertain under current environmental conditions. The results of this study highlight the value of incorporating environmental data and alternative stock-recruitment assumptions when fitting production models to explore key factors influencing population dynamics.



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