An assessment of biological and population parameters of the Common whelk, Buccinum undatum (L.) in the region of the North West Irish whelk fishery
Hemer, Jennifer Anne
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The Common whelk, Buccinum undatum (L.) is a conspicuous benthic scavenger in Irish waters, and is a valuable fisheries resource in South East Ireland. B. undatum is fished in many parts of its range, and previous studies have shown that certain life history parameters, which vary with location, make this species vulnerable to overexploitation. This makes research into each exploited stock essential to ensure sustainable fisheries management of the species. In 2003, interest in B. undatum as a complementary species in the inshore fishery east of the Inishowen Peninsula, North West Ireland, initiated investigation into fisheries related biological and population aspects of the species in this region. The current study presents estimates of spatial variation and density of the stock, size at age and growth rates, size and age at onset of sexual maturity, and timing of reproductive events in the region of the North West Irish whelk fishery for the period of June 2003 to May 2004. Analysis of variance of the total shell length of whelk landings to the fishery was conducted over spatial scales of fishing pot, fishing string and landings to vessels. Landings varied significantly in shell length at the spatial scale at which whelks are attracted to baited pots, but did not vary significantly over larger spatial scales. Depletion estimates of stock density from fisheries derived Catch per Unit Effort data and a mark re-capture experiment estimate 0.134 - 0.227 whelks per m2. Two independent methods of age determination found similar growth logistics functions for B. undatum.Modal analysis of length frequency distribution of landings to the fishery estimated symptotic length, Leo = 151.64 mm and Brody growth coefficient, K = 0.04. Analysis of the striae in individual opercula, where each stria was found to represent annual growth, estimated Loo = 137.73 mm and K = 0.12. Common whelks in the region of the North West Irish whelk fishery grow slowly and are long-lived, with 19 opercula striae recorded in one individual. Onset of sexual maturity is late, and no sex-specific differences in size or age at maturity were determined in the present study. Males were found to achieve sexual maturity at 83.30 ± 10.77 mm, and 8.9 - 11.1 years of age, and females at 82.62 ± 10.68 mm and 8.8 to 11.1 years of age. Systematic observations of reproductive events, including histological changes to the female ovary and male testis, and changes in the size and mass of body components, suggest that breeding occurred between the autumn and winter months of October and December 2003. Biological aspects of B. undatum in the study region are compared with previous studies from other regions, and discussed in relation to sustainable management of the fishery.
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