Experimental harvesting of Mytilus galloprovincialis: Can an alien mussel support a small-scale fishery?

18 October 2010

In an effort to stimulate new fisheries and address historic imbalances in access to fishing rights, there has been a recent focus on the development of small-scale fisheries in South Africa. To assess the biological viability of a fishery for the alien mussel Mytilus galloprovincialis, an experimental fishery operated by two impoverished coastal communities was initiated. Harvesting took place on a rotational basis at three sites, nested within four locations. At each of these 12 sites, 5 treatments were undertaken to span a spectrum of harvesting intensities (F = 0, 0.3, 0.6, 0.9 and a once-off total removal). A dynamic biomass-based fisheries model was developed to predict changes in exploited populations over time. Monthly maximum sustainable yield (MSY) estimates peaked at 1560 kg per 100m of shore in March–April and September–October, but dropped by two orders of magnitude to 15 kg per 100m of shore during the remainder of the year. The two peaks in MSY corresponded to the peak spawning periods of M. galloprovincialis along the South African west coast. Consequently, harvesting will only be viable if focused within two seasons spanning the peaks in MSY. Under these conditions, a range of harvesting intensities between F = 0.1 and 0.3 would permit long-term biological sustainability of a fishery. If implemented, this would represent the first instance of a marine invasive species being utilised to achieve socio-economic goals in South Africa.