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Harvest of Mississippi River sturgeon drives abundance and reproductive success: a harbinger of collapse?


Author's address: James E. Garvey, Department of Zoology, Fisheries and Illinois Aquaculture Center, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, IL 62901, USA.


Within harvested populations, relationships between harvest intensity and reproductive responses are typically unclear, rendering regulatory decisions difficult. Harvest of the commercially important shovelnose sturgeon (Scaphirhynchus platorynchus) is increasing in the upper Mississippi River; standardized seasonal sampling revealed that adult abundance is declining. Relative density of annual cohorts varied negatively with historical harvest intensity (r2 = 0.84), suggesting that removal of mature adults is reducing the contribution of cohorts to population density. The results of simulation modeling suggest that this currently unregulated fishery is experiencing both growth and recruitment overfishing. Further, the current proposed multi-state minimum length regulation was insufficient to maintain a sustainable stock. Only a more conservative minimum length limit (685 mm) produced yields that were sustainable at the current level of mortality and provided room for the fishery to grow. The annual mortality rate of the sympatric, federally endangered pallid sturgeon (S. albus) was similar to that of the shovelnose sturgeon population, raising concerns that harvest-induced mortality is affecting this congener's vital rates.

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