The Case of the 'Missing' Arctic Bivalves and the Walrus: The Biggest [Overlooked] Clam Fishery on the Planet

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Coastal Sciences, Gulf Coast Research Laboratory


Ocean Science and Engineering


Bivalve molluscs represent a significant proportion of the diet of both Atlantic and Pacific walrus (Odobenus rosmarus rosmarus and Odobenus rosmarus divergens, respectively) and are pivotal to benthic–pelagic coupling and carbonate cycling in the Arctic oceans. The latter is of particular relevance in a period of seasonal ice retreat, freshwater release into associated surface waters, decreasing water pH, and possible undersaturation of Arctic waters with respect to aragonite. Using population estimates and predation rates for the walruses on bivalve molluscs, a conservative estimate of bivalve consumption in the regions of active walruses foraging is 2.0–3.0 × 106 tonnes y–1—a tonnage comparable to the landings for the largest U.S. commercial fishery, the walleye pollock fishery in the eastern Bering Sea. Predation loss to other apex predators such as bearded seals is discounted. Using production:biomass ratios comparable to other high-latitude bivalves, a conservative estimate of bivalve standing stock required to support walrus populations is 0.4–3.0 × 107 tonnes. Whereas predominant clam prey species exhibit longevity in the 30+ y range, sampled populations in the Bering and Chukchi seas are dominated by small, often less than 1.0 cm individuals. Large clams are rare to absent in samples, suggesting either rapid turnover of the population with high predation balanced by high recruitment and/or a bias in sampling that discounts larger, more sparse individuals. Walrus grazing contributes up to 4.0–6.0 × 106 tonnes y–1 of carbonate to buffering of near-surface sediments in Artic regions. Accurate estimates of bivalve biomass and, thereby, the carbonate budget of Arctic shelf clam species, are critical to understanding the stability of associated continental shelf communities with continued warming of these high-latitude systems and their associated tendency toward aragonite undersaturation.

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Journal of Shellfish Research





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