SPM Journal Club: Population dynamics and protection of the largest individuals
In many harvested ecosystems, laws and regulations protect animals below a certain size from being killed. However, in species such as fish, it is often the large, old animals that represent the reproductive capital of a population, and that might need protection even more.
We are discussing a paper that investigates the effects and benefits of protecting old, fecund fish in a population of pike exploited by recreational angling:
Traditional fisheries management theory supports aggressive exploitation of old and large fish to maximize a stock’s biomass production and yield. Here we present an age-structured fish population model with multidimensional density-dependence to test the hypotheses that protection of large, fecund individuals is beneficial for the population and selected fisheries variables and that effects of maternal size on early survival rate change the resilience and fisheries productivity of a pike population (Esox lucius L.) exploited by recreational angling. We find that, compared to the traditional regulatory approach of management by small minimum-length limits (so that culling of large fish is encouraged), preservation of large and old individuals through harvestable-slot length limits promises considerable benefits for fisheries quality, without compromising the long-term conservation of the population. We also find that ignoring maternal effects on early survival of offspring might overestimate the equilibrium spawning stock abundance by up to 17% and the predicted harvest by up to 11%, potentially putting pike populations at risk from overharvest if size-dependent maternal effects are ignored in fisheries models. If the findings from our simulation study hold for empirical systems, they suggest altered harvest regulations in many of consumptive pike recreational fisheries are needed to protect large individuals to a greater extent that currently pursued.