ASSESSING THE EFFECT OF CLIMATE VARIABILITY ON THE SOUTH CAROLINA RECREATIONAL AND COMMERCIAL BLUE CRAB FISHERY
McClellan, Kelsey Lynn
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Blue crabs are an important commercial fishery in South Carolina, but landings have decreased over the past 15 years, sparking debate about how to effectively manage this population. It is unclear whether this decline is more related to drought or changes in fishing effort. The objective of this study is to measure recreational catch-per-unit-effort (CPUE) and total recreational catch of blue crab in South Carolina coastal waters, and determine the impact of recreational fishing pressure on the commercial fishery, and how this interaction changes with flow conditions and hypothetical seasonal closures for female harvest. Using a spatially-explicit individual-based population model, the South Carolina Blue Crab Regional Abundance Biotic Simulation (SCBCRABS), we compared the efficiency of commercial versus recreational traps during periods of flood, normal and drought conditions, and during hypothetical seasonal closures (no harvest of females, no harvest of females during full spawning season, partial harvest of females during spawning season). We found a significant decrease from 1997 in the recreational fishery (-63%), with evident seasonal catch patterns, and shifts in preferred gear type used from 1997 to 2015. Additionally, SCBCRABS modeled the phenomenon of trap interference with competition between commercial pots.