The impact of mussel seed fishery on the dynamics of wild subtidal mussel beds in the western Wadden Sea, The Netherlands

Smaal, A.C.; Craeymeersch, J.A.; Stralen, M.R. van


For the cultivation of mussels, wild stocks of juveniles are harvested to collect mussel seed as starting material for the culture. These wild stocks are found in the sublittoral western Wadden Sea (NL). After summer spat fall, fisheries in Autumn on newly formed beds is carried out in areas that have the risk of washing away due to storms, or are vulnerable for starfish predation. These wild beds are considered as relatively unstable. On remaining more stable wild beds, seed fishery is carried out in next Spring. As the Wadden Sea is a nature conservation area, mussel seed fisheries is only allowed if no negative impacts on the nature management objectives can be expected. Seed fishery impacts were addressed in an extensive study including effects on sediment composition, macrobenthos and epifauna. In this paper we describe the effects of mussel seed fisheries on the development of the mussel stocks with and without fisheries in 39 pairwise studied impact and control plots. Stocks on seed beds in areas of the sublittoral Western Wadden Sea that are known as unstable, show a large decline within one year after settlement, also when there is no seed fishery. Harvesting seed on more stable beds in Spring results in a statistical significant reduction in stock size, which lasts for a period of two years after the first fishery. For the longer term, there is a gradual decline of the mussel stocks on all studied plots. On three out of the 39 plots, mussel biomass showed a large increase, both on control and impact parts. Also these mussel beds declined and eventually disappeared. A difference in life expectancy of fished and unfished beds was not demonstrated. It is concluded that sublittoral beds gradually disappear, also without fisheries. As a consequence, new recruitment is of critical importance for the long-term survival of sublittoral mussel beds. As we found no significant difference between recruitment on fished and control parts, there are no indications for negative impacts of seed fishery on new recruitment.