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Small steps high leaps: Bio-economical effects of changing codend mesh size in the North Sea Brown shrimp fishery

Small mesh codends applied in the brown shrimp (Crangon crangon L.) fishery in the North Sea cause large bycatch of fish, invertebrates and undersized shrimp. We investigated the most obvious and enforceable mitigation measure: the increase of mesh size beyond 20 mm, which was the medium mesh size of the fleet before 2016. The predicted selectivity from different codend designs was applied in a yield-per-recruit model able to reproduce the seasonal pattern of landings and biomass by sex, size, and age. The model enables assessment and quantifying population responses to possible management actions, also considering other influential variables such as natural mortality, which vastly decreased during the 1990s to the contemporary low level due to the decrease of cod in the Southern North Sea. Model results show that the selectivity of 20 mm codends leads to the poorest fishery and population indexes. Any increase in mesh size within the range considered and in the present low-predator situation would lead to a larger shrimp stock and higher catches. Increasing mesh size reduces catches of undersized and small commercial-sized shrimps entering the fishery mainly in summer time, thus leading to surplus catches in autumn and spring. Model results reveal that an increase of mesh size diminishes growth overfishing and allows the formation of a larger stock that may better cope a fluctuating natural mortality and the steadily upwards creeping fishing intensity.



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