Assessment of spatial fishing closures on beach clams
Spatial fishing closures are typically implemented for conservation and fisheries benefits, but the effects of such initiatives are often not tested. This study examined whether the densities and size compositions of beach clams differed between commercially fished and non-fished zones on beaches. Sampling of clams was stratified across two habitats (swash and dry sand) on two commercially fished beaches, before and during (early and late) the 6-month harvesting period. Two beaches that had no commercial fishing were also sampled the same way and acted as external controls. Differences in densities, but not size compositions, of clams were evident between zones on the commercially fished and control beaches, but they were mostly apparent only across short (day and week) periods before, early and late harvesting, and thus were most likely pulse responses of clams to stochastic, non-fishing related events that acted independently across the different zones on each beach. The potential movements of clams along and across beaches as well as current restrictions on commercial fishing probably dampened detection of longer-term fishing-related impacts and demographic differences in clams between commercially fished and non-fished zones. Direct fishing-related impacts on clams may only be discernable in the immediate vicinity of, and persist for a short period following, an actual fishing event on a beach. Nevertheless, the zones closed to commercial fishing may provide valuable protection to a portion of clams on each beach and alleviate beach-wide harvesting impacts. The broader value of these closed fishing zones requires knowledge of the impacts of fishing on other beach organisms and ecosystem functioning. Further experimentation that tests other aspects of management arrangements of beach clams may help determine their global applicability for sustainable harvesting, and contribute to the overall conservation management of sandy beach ecosystems.