Spatial distribution, population dynamics and productivity of Spisula subtruncata: implications for Spisula fisheries in seaduck wintering areas
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Bivalves are important in shallow marine habitats, not at least being the major food resource for seaducks such as the common scoter (Melanitta nigra), thousands of which are wintering on the Western Coastal Banks, near the Belgian-French border (North Sea). Next to this ecological importance, fishable stocks of one of these bivalves, Spisula subtruncata, occur in the area. This study aimed at investigating S. subtruncata’s spatial distribution, population dynamics and productivity and its implications for a sustainable Spisula fishery in seaduck wintering areas. The spatial distribution of S. subtruncata was studied in 1994 and 1997 in two areas of the Belgian Western Coastal Banks. The population dynamics and production were investigated by monthly sampling of two stations between April 1995 and April 1996 and a seasonal sampling between April 1996 and April 1998. Spisula subtruncata had a patchy distribution in the deeper (6 m), fine sandy (200 ± 20 μm) sediments of the Abra alba community, mainly found in the western most part of the Western Coastal Banks. In August 1995, an overwhelming and successful recruitment was observed in this area: local densities were as high as 150,000 ind m−2. Minor, non-successful recruitments were detected in August 1996 and 1997. Due to space limitation, high densities of S. subtruncata are hypothesized to be responsible for the occurrence of aberrant shapes as observed from August 1996 onwards. Growth was described by a seasonally oscillating version of the von Bertalanffy growth function (VBGF): a growth stop was observed from late autumn till early spring. The VBGF parameters K (growth constant) and L∞ (asymptotic length) were estimated at 0.7–0.9 and 31–33 mm. A combination of length and individual biomass increment showed: (1) a faster length increment of smaller individuals during the second growing period (catching-up phenomenon), (2) a constant length combined with a decreasing individual biomass during the suboptimal winter periods (except for the first winter, when the individual biomass slightly increased), (3) a positive relationship between the individual biomass decrease and the seawater temperature during the winter periods, and (4) a strong increase of the individual biomass in early spring (April 1997 and 1998) because of gametogenesis, followed by a decrease because of spawning (August 1997). The extremely high total production of the 1995 year class in the tidal gully (Potje) during the study period was estimated at approximately 1,500 g ash-free dry weight (ADW) m−2 or 600 g ADW m−2 on average per year. Shellfisheries for S. subtruncata within seaduck wintering areas, such as the Western Coastal Banks, should be carefully deliberated since (1) an important food resource for the seaducks will decrease, (2) the ecologically most diverse and rich macrobenthic A. alba community will be heavily affected, and (3) the recovery of Spisula populations after depletion is expected to be erratic.