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Varying the timing of oyster transplant: implications for management from simulation studies

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The transplanting of oysters from one ground to another is a common practice in the oyster industry. In Delaware Bay, for instance, oysters are typically transplanted from upper-bay low-salinity seed beds onto lower-bay leased grounds for growth and conditioning before market. The higher salinity on the leased grounds, however, also favours higher losses to predation and disease. A coupled oyster–Perkinsus marinus–predator model was used to investigate how varying the timing of transplant affects the ultimate yield of Eastern oysters, Crassostrea virginica, in Delaware Bay. Simulations were run in which oysters were moved from seed beds to leased grounds in November, January, March, April and May. The number of market-size (≥ 76 mm) adults available for harvest in the following July to November was compared for populations undergoing mortality from predation (crabs, oyster drills) and/or disease (Perkinsus marinus). In all simulations, the abundance of market-size oysters declined between July and November. However, transplanting oysters in November resulted in the largest yield of market-size oysters for all harvest times; transplanting in May resulted in the smallest yield. The autumn transplant allows oysters to benefit from the larger spring phytoplankton bloom over the leased grounds in the lower estuary. The effect of varying the season of transplant was most noticeable if oysters were harvested early (July or August). In all simulations, transplanting resulted in a higher abundance of market-size oysters than direct harvest from the seed beds. Direct harvest would rarely be advantageous if the cost of transplant were insignificant and the relative rates of mortality were as stipulated. However, a May transplant is only moderately better than a direct harvest and the economic benefits of either option are likely to be determined by the cost of transplanting and the mortality associated with the process. In the same vein, the decision as to when to harvest relies on balancing the increased price obtained for oysters in the autumn with the increased loss owing to predation and disease. Awaiting an autumn harvest is clearly much riskier if the principal source of mortality is disease rather than predation, because disease mortality is concentrated on the market-size oysters and is greatest in the autumn.
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Keywords: fisheries management; numerical model; oyster; population dynamics

Document Type: Original Article

Affiliations: 1: Haskin Shellfish Research Laboratory, Rutgers University, 2: Center for Coastal Physical Oceanography, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia, USA, 23529

Publication date: 1998-02-01

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