Atlantic surfclams support a major commercial fishery in the western North Atlantic Ocean with landings consistently between 15,000 and 25,000 metric tons since 1982. The stock is not and historically has not been overfished nor has overfishing occurred; however, in recent years landings per unit effort have declined. Surfclams are a biomass dominant on the continental shelf and a bellwether of climate change in the northwestern Atlantic. This study investigated the relationship of broodstock and recruitment during a period when Mid-Atlantic warming initiated a shelf-wide shift in the surfclams range. A species distribution function model was used to assess the effective area occupied by surfclams for five study regions (Delmarva, New Jersey, Long Island, Southern New England, and Georges Bank). The effective area occupied by small surfclams was consistently much greater than that for large (≥120 mm) surfclams. Three independent statistical analyses of the stock-recruitment relationship found little evidence of a significant association in any of the five regions, suggesting that factors besides spawning stock biomass (SSB) are primary determinants of recruitment success. Interannual variability in recruitment, in part associated with variations in larval transport and in part associated with spatially different rates of mortality post-settlement, is an important source of uncertainty and warming bottom waters driving surfclams into new habitat may decouple any inherent interaction between recruits and SSB. A recruitment index obtained from a fishery-independent survey across the range of the stock, as a consequence, is unlikely to usefully presage changes in abundance of the fishable stock. The wider distribution of settlers relative to the fishable stock, however, positions the species well to respond to changing bottom water temperatures as Mid-Atlantic warming continues.
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Vol. 37 • No. 5