Sustainability of a fishery is traditionally and typically considered achieved if the exploited population does not decline in numbers or biomass over time as a result of fishing relative to biological reference point goals. Oysters, however, exhibit atypical population dynamics compared with many other commercial species. The population dynamics often display extreme natural interannual variation in numbers and biomass, and oysters create their own habitat—the reef itself. With the worldwide decline of oyster reef habitat and the oyster fisheries dependent thereon, the maintenance of shell has received renewed attention as essential to population sustainability. We apply a shell budget model to estimate the sustainable catch of oysters on public oyster grounds in Louisiana using no net shell loss as a sustainability reference point. Oyster density and size are obtained from an annual stock assessment. The model simulates oyster growth and mortality, and natural shell loss. Shell mass is increased when oysters die in place, and is diminished when oysters are removed by fishing. The shell budget model has practical applications, such as identifying areas for closure, determining total allowable catch, managing shell planting and reef restoration, and achieving product certification for sustainability. The determination of sustainable yield by shell budget modeling should be broadly applicable to the eastern oyster across its entire range.
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Vol. 33 • No. 2