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MEPS prepress abstract   -  DOI:

Assessing the demographic connectivity of common cockles in a shallow estuary as a basis for fisheries management and stock protection efforts

Flemming Thorbjørn Hansen*, Anders Chr. Erichsen, Camille Saurel, Pedro Seabra Freitas

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Common cockle, Cerastoderma edule, populations in the Danish Limfjorden, constitute an important ecosystem component and a valuable resource for fishermen and industries, providing a large proportion of cockle landings in both Denmark and EU. However, processes driving cockle recruitment and mortality are not well understood and prevent sustainable fisheries management and species protection efforts. We report a thorough study of processes that are premises for any recruitment to occur, namely larval dispersal and settlement. Outputs from biophysical modelling of cockle larvae dispersal, connectivity analysis and derived graph theory metrics were used to analyse potential demographic connectivity or isolation between known cockle populations and other parts of Limfjorden. The results show that the most productive and commercially important cockle beds are almost exclusively dependent on larval imports from unexploited spawning biomass elsewhere rather than on self-recruitment, allowing for exploitation levels likely unsustainable otherwise. Other parts of Limfjorden are relatively isolated, relying mostly on self-recruitment. The results also show that in some areas where predicted larval settling potentials are highest, the absence of cockle population indicate that other factors, likely environmental, are more important. This study provides an example of contrasting population dynamics and connectivity, suggesting that the vulnerability of cockle populations to exploitation or natural mortality may be highly variable and interlinked. Ignoring processes affecting larval dispersal may jeopardise cockle populations and fisheries in Limfjorden. This study highlights the importance of understanding processes of marine connectivity for the protection of bivalve populations and sustainable fisheries management.