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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 479:143-161 (2013)  -  DOI:

Modelling ecosystem effects of reduced prawn recruitment on the Thukela Bank trawling grounds, South Africa, following nursery loss

M. J. Ayers1,*, U. M. Scharler1, S. T. Fennessy

1School of Life Sciences, Westville Campus, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban 4041, South Africa
2Oceanographic Research Institute, Durban 4056, South Africa

ABSTRACT: Penaeid prawns are targeted in the Thukela Bank shallow-water trawling grounds in south-eastern Africa. Based on previous studies, these targeted prawns are assumed to primarily use 2 large estuaries (St. Lucia and Richards Bay/Mhlathuze) as nurseries on the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) coast, which comprise over 80% of the estuarine habitat in the region. However, St. Lucia has been closed to the Indian Ocean since 2002 due to continued separation from the Mfolozi River, cessation of dredging required to open the inlet, reduced freshwater flow and drought conditions. To study the effects of prawn trawling and prawn nursery loss on the ecosystem, Ecopath with Ecosim models of the Thukela Bank were constructed. Models were fitted to total catch (t) for 1990 to 2009, and biomass trends were estimated by scaling Ecosim feeding interaction parameters to prey trophic level. Prawn trawling was modelled using fishing effort data. Prawn recruitment was modelled via the ‘hatchery stocking’ function in Ecosim simulating nursery loss along the KZN coast. Various prawn recruitment and trawling effort levels were simulated from 2010 to 2040. Decreasing prawn recruitment positively affected benthic fish and carnivorous benthos biomass and negatively affected prawn, commercial crustacean and benthopelagic fish biomass. Negative effects were exacerbated and positive effects were decreased by high versus low trawling effort. The results suggest that indirect anthropogenic and environmental factors, such as recruitment from estuarine nursery areas, can impact offshore fisheries catches. Therefore, when modelling and managing marine ecosystems, it is important to couple processes between adjacent systems, particularly for critical life-history stages.

KEY WORDS: Ecosystem modelling · Nursery habitat · Anthropogenic impact · Fishing effects · Prawn trawling · Ecopath with Ecosim

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Cite this article as: Ayers MJ, Scharler UM, Fennessy ST (2013) Modelling ecosystem effects of reduced prawn recruitment on the Thukela Bank trawling grounds, South Africa, following nursery loss. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 479:143-161.

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