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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 248:279-292 (2003)  -  doi:10.3354/meps248279

The Burry shellfishery and oystercatchers: using a behaviour-based model to advise on shellfishery management policy

Andrew D. West1,*, John D. Goss-Custard2, Selwyn McGrorty1, Richard A. Stillman1, Sarah E. A. le V. dit Durell1, Barry Stewart3, Peter Walker4, David W. Palmer4, Philip J. Coates5

1Centre for Ecology and Hydrology Dorset, Winfrith Technology Centre, Winfrith Newburgh, Dorchester 8ZD, United Kingdom
230 The Strand, Topsham, Exeter EX3 0AY, United Kingdom
336 Pencaecrown Road, Penyrheol, Gorseinon, Swansea SA4 4FU, United Kingdom
4The Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, Lowestoft Laboratory, Pakefield Road, Lowestoft NR33 0HT, United Kingdom
5South Wales Sea Fisheries Committee, Queens Buildings, Cambrian Place, Swansea SA1 1TW, United Kingdom

ABSTRACT: The Burry inlet, South Wales, supports a licensed cockle Cerastoderma edule fishery and occasional mussel Mytilus edulis fishery. It is also an important overwintering ground for oystercatchers Haematopus ostralegus. In recent years mussels have settled over parts of some cockle beds, preventing cockle fishery there and leading to a request by shellfishers to remove this Œmussel crumble¹. Conservation managers, however, were concerned that the mussel crumble might be providing a high-quality food source for the oystercatchers, making its removal detrimental to the birds. A behaviour-based model of oystercatcher feeding on cockles and mussels was parameterised for the inlet and its predictions tested against the distribution of birds across the shellfish beds and the amount of time they spent feeding. The model was then used to explore whether the birds were currently food-limited and what would be the effects on their mortality rate and body condition if the mussel crumble were to be removed, thereby re-exposing underlying cockle beds. The model predicted successfully the proportion of birds feeding on the different types of food and the number of hours birds spent feeding on neap tides. It was predicted that, at current bird population sizes, there would have to be a 50% reduction in shellfish stocks and the areas of shellfish beds from 2000-01 levels to cause noticeable extra emigration or mortality. A given area of mussel bed was predicted to be able to support more birds than the same area of cockle bed, but the greater area of the cockle beds meant that they were more important than mussels in determining the number of birds supported by the inlet. The simulated removal of mussel crumble to expose underlying cockles had no effect on predicted bird mortality and body condition at 2000-01 shellfish stock levels. However, there were circumstances under which the mussel crumble was predicted to increase the inlet¹s capacity to support birds, particularly when the area of existing cockle and mussel beds was substantially reduced.

KEY WORDS: Shellfishery management · Behaviour-based model · Oystercatcher · Cockle · Mussel

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