Trends in mussel cover, density and size at exploited and unexploited intertidal reefs in eastern South Africa
The brown mussel Perna perna is the dominant indigenous mussel along the east coast of South Africa, where it is harvested by recreational and subsistence fishers. High fishing pressure near urban areas led to declining abundance and consequently to the closure of some reefs to fishing in 1998. We estimated trends in mussel population dynamics at exploited and unexploited sites, along fixed transects, over a 27-year period (1993–2019). Trends in recreational fishing effort were inferred from yearly permit sales and existing catch statistics. At high levels of fishing effort, short-term trends in mussel cover and densities were inversely related to fishing effort at three of the four sites considered, while the fourth site was influenced by intermittent breaching of a nearby estuary. Mussel size was inversely related to population densities. The effects of longer-term harvesting bans were partially obscured by sharp declines in fishing effort across the entire recreational fishery. Seasonal and interannual patterns in cover and density were partially synchronised among sites, indicating environmental forcing at similar time-scales. The long-term dataset was invaluable in disentangling the relative effects of fishing and environmental factors on mussel population dynamics and should be continued as a baseline for assessing future climate-induced effects on rocky-shore biota.