Long-term indirect effects of mechanical cockle-dredging on intertidal bivalve stocks in the Wadden Sea
Theunis Piersma, Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ), PO Box 59, 1790 AB Den Burg, Texel, the Netherlands (fax 31 222 319674; e-mail theunis@nioz nl).
- 1There is world-wide concern about the effects of bottom-dredging on benthic communities in soft sediments. In autumn 1988, almost a third of the 50-km2 intertidal system around the island of Griend in the western Dutch Wadden Sea was suction-dredged for edible cockles Cerastoderma edule and this study assessed subsequent effects. An adjacent area not directly touched by this fishery and an area from which the mussel Mytilus edulis beds were removed, served as reference areas.
- 2Sediment characteristics, together with the total stock size and settlement densities of Cerastoderma, Baltic tellin Macoma balthica and soft-shelled clam Mya arenaria, were documented during 11 successive autumns before (August–September 1988) and after (August–September 1989–98) the suction-dredging event in fished and unfished areas. Four other areas in the Dutch Wadden Sea, where changes in densities of juvenile bivalves from 1992 to 1998 were measured, served as additional reference locations.
- 3Between 1988 and 1994, median sediment grain size increased while silt was lost from sediments near Griend that were dredged for cockles. The initial sediment characteristics were re-attained by 1996.
- 4After the removal of all Mytilus and most Cerastoderma, the abundance of Macoma declined for 8 years. From 1989 to 1998, stocks of Cerastoderma, Macoma and Mytilus did not recover to the 1988 levels, with the loss of Cerastoderma and Macoma being most pronounced in the area dredged for cockles. Declines of bivalve stocks were caused by particularly low rates of settlement in fished areas until 1996, i.e. 8 years after the dredging.
- 5A comparison of settlement in the short (1992–94) and medium term (1996–98) after cockle-dredging in several fished and unfished areas spread over the entire Dutch Wadden Sea, showed a significant negative effect of dredging on subsequent settlement of Cerastoderma. Macoma also declined, but not significantly.
- 6We conclude that suction-dredging of Cerastoderma had long-lasting negative effects on recruitment of bivalves, particularly the target species, in sandy parts of the Wadden Sea basin. Initially, sediment reworking by suction-dredging (especially during autumn storms) probably caused losses of fine silts. Negative feedback processes appeared to follow that prevented the accumulation of fine-grained sediments conducive to bivalve settlement.