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Open Access Article << Previous     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 62(6)

Are spatial closures better than size limits for halting the decline of the North Sea thornback ray, Raja clavata?

Jessica Wiegand A , Ewan Hunter B and Nicholas K. Dulvy C D

A Department for Environment, University of York, York, YO10 5DD, UK.
B Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, Lowestoft, Suffolk, NR33 OHT, UK.
C Earth to Ocean Research Group, Department of Biological Sciences, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, V5A 1S6, Canada.
D Corresponding author. Email: dulvy@sfu.ca

Marine and Freshwater Research 62(6) 722-733 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/MF10141
Submitted: 16 June 2010  Accepted: 25 February 2011   Published: 24 June 2011

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A key challenge of the ecosystem approach to fisheries management is to sustain viable populations of large-bodied less-productive vulnerable elasmobranchs that are the by-catch of fisheries that target more productive species. The North Sea population of the thornback ray (Raja clavata) is now mainly confined to the Thames Estuary and surrounding SW North Sea, which is subject to a flatfish trawl fishery. We explored the relative effectiveness of seasonal closures versus size-based landing restrictions using a four-season age-structured model. More than a third of adult thornback rays are currently removed by fishing each year, and without effective management, a further 90% decline within 30 years is likely. A three-season closure of the Thames Estuary was the shortest closure that ensured thornback ray recovery and minimal loss of fishery yield. Minimum and maximum landing size restrictions are nearly as effective at recovering thornback rays but less so at improving yield. While long seasonal closures and full marine protected areas are more effective at ensuring the recovery of thornback rays, length restrictions may be simpler to implement under the current institutional framework and may have less impact on the multispecies trawl fisheries operating in the area.

Additional keywords: by-catch, discard, elasmobranch, length restrictions, management strategy evaluation, marine reserve.


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