Abstract

The brown swimming crab (Callinectes bellicosus) is an economically important species in the Gulf of California, and its fishing activity, held in Sonora from 1986, has been affected by a 20-year declining trend in its biomass. With the aim to understand the possible reasons of this species population changes along time, we estimated population growth rate (r) and sex ratio of C. bellicosus, and combined them with three parameters describing its habitat: sea temperature, wetland extension and habitat size in four areas along the coast of Sonora. For this, monthly mean sex ratio was estimated from crabs samples obtained from commercial catches during 1998-2002 and 2012; mean sea surface temperature for the spawning period (May-August) were derived from remote sensors for the same years; while wetland coverages were obtained from published reports, and habitat size was estimated as the fishing surface. For each area, r was estimated using a method developed for limited data situations using commercial landings (t) from 1986-2013. With data from the four areas, simple and multiple linear regression models were developed to ascertain theoretical sensitivities of r to variations in sex ratio and environmental parameters. A total of 24 556 crabs were sampled; males dominated (68.8 %) over females during the study period and in all areas; a cluster analysis identified two groups according to sex ratio: a Northern group with zones 1 and 2, and a Southern group with zones 3 and 4. r values were different in all zones (P<0.001) as was sex ratio (P=0.037); no differences in temperature were identified within the study years (P>0.995). Both the estimated data and sensitivity analyses suggest the existence of a direct and positive dependence of r on the proportion of female crabs and wetland size. We hypothesize that excess fishing of females caused the declining biomass trend of the brown swimming crab in Sonora, and concluded on the convenience of implementing harvest refugia inside coastal wetlands to protect females during the spawning season.

 

Keywords: Callinectes bellicosus, sex ratio, population growth rate, Gulf of California.