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    Spatial distribution and movement of Atlantic tarpon (Megalops atlanticus) in the northern Gulf of Mexico
    (PLoS ONE, 2024-03-07) Shane Stephens; Michael Dance; Michelle Zapp Sluis; Richard Kline; Matthew Streich; Gregory Stunz; Aaron Adams; R.J. David Wells; Jay Rooker
    Atlantic tarpon (Megalops atlanticus) are capable of long-distance migrations (hundreds of kilometers) but also exhibit resident behaviors in estuarine and coastal habitats. The aim of this study was to characterize the spatial distribution of juvenile tarpon and identify migration pathways of adult tarpon in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Spatial distribution of juvenile tarpon was investigated using gillnet data collected by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) over the past four decades. Generalized additive models (GAMs) indicated that salinity and water temperature played a significant role in tarpon presence, with tarpon occurrences peaking in the fall and increasing over the past four decades in this region. Adult tarpon caught off Texas (n = 40) and Louisiana (n = 4) were tagged with acoustic transmitters to characterize spatial and temporal trends in their movements and migrations. Of the 44 acoustic transmitters deployed, 18 of the individuals were detected (n = 16 west of the Mississippi River Delta and n = 2 east of the Mississippi River Delta). Tarpon tagged west of the Mississippi River Delta off Texas migrated south in the fall and winter into areas of south Texas and potentially into Mexico, while individuals tagged east of the delta migrated into Florida during the same time period, suggesting the presence of two unique migratory contingents or subpopulations in this region. An improved understanding of the habitat requirements and migratory patterns of tarpon inhabiting the Gulf of Mexico is critically needed by resource managers to assess the vulnerability of each contingent to fishing pressure, and this information will guide multi-state and multi-national conservation efforts to rebuild and sustain tarpon populations.
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    Age, growth, and mortality of King Mackerel in the western Gulf of Mexico
    (Marine and Coastal Fisheries, 2023-11-07) Kesley G. Banks; Matthew K. Streich; Gregory W. Stunz
    Objective Temporal and spatial variation in growth can have significant implications for the assessment and management of exploited populations. Therefore, the age and growth of King Mackerel Scomberomorus cavalla were estimated for the western Gulf of Mexico, where there are large gaps in the available data. Methods A total of 727 sagittal otoliths from 411 females, 248 males, and 68 individuals of unknown sex were collected from headboats, private recreational anglers, tournaments, and fishery-independent sampling and aged. Result Ages ranged from 0 to 17 years with lengths ranging from 13 to 147 cm fork length. The distribution of lengths and ages differed marginally for fishing sector (i.e., tournament vs. headboat vs. private). The fish that were collected from tournaments were larger than those collected from headboats and private anglers. The distribution of lengths and ages did vary by sex, with females obtaining larger sizes than males. However, there was no difference in mean age by sex. Using the multimodel approach, the Richards model improved the fit for both the youngest and oldest fish in the sample relative to the other growth models that were evaluated. Sex-specific differences in the Richards model were detected, with females growing larger than males but more slowly. Although peak catch was observed at age 5, King Mackerel were not fully recruited to the recreational fishery until age 6. The Chapman-Robson Peak Plus estimate of Z was 0.37. Conclusion These data provide a contemporary snapshot of size structure, age, growth, and mortality for King Mackerel from an undersampled region of the Gulf of Mexico and highlight several key considerations for upcoming stock assessments.
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    Assessing ecological connectivity of blacktip sharks (Carcharhinus limbatus) in the Gulf of Mexico using stable isotope analysis of multiple tissues
    (Fisheries Research, 2023-08-30) Addie L. Binstock; Travis M. Richards; Kesley Gibson-Banks; J. Marcus Drymon; R.J. David Wells; John A. Mohan
    Effective management of blacktip sharks relies on a comprehensive understanding of population distribution and stock structure. Previous stock separations and the implementation of regional quotas have proven successful in maintaining the sustainable harvest of blacktip sharks in both the Western North Atlantic and United States Gulf of Mexico (US GoM), in commercial and recreational fisheries. Within the US GoM, finer scale biological separation between blacktips in western and eastern regions has been supported through tagging, genetic, and diet data. This study provides additional evidence of unique ecological isotopic niche areas and δ15N and δ13C values for blacktip sharks from the western, central, and eastern US GoM across muscle and vertebral tissues that reflect different isotope turnover rates. Blacktip sharks from western and central regions exhibited isotope values and niches that were significantly smaller compared to eastern sharks, with enriched δ13C and depleted δ15N west of 88ºN. Ontogenetic shifts were noted for most regions and there was no crossover or overlap in average isotope values from early to recent life between regions. These spatiotemporal patterns suggest that in the year following birth and prior to the time of capture, blacktip sharks on the central and western shelves have separated ecologically from blacktips on the eastern US GoM Florida shelf.
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    Talk is cheap: Direct evidence of conservation-based changes in angler behavior
    (Wiley Author Services, 2023-07-08) Banks, Kesley; Streich, Matthew; Stunz, Gregory
    Post-release mortality threatens shark populations already imperiled by overfishing, capture stress, and a changing climate. Few studies have quantified post-release mortality for sharks captured in land-based recreational fisheries. From 2018 to 2021, a land-based shark post-release mortality study was conducted and identified water temperature and species-specific behavior as contributing factors to post-release mortality. The purpose of this study was to estimate the effectiveness of disseminating the recommendation for best practices to recreational shark anglers and to determine if this information influenced angler behavior. Awareness of our post-release mortality study influenced an angler's likely release behavior, with an increase in sharks landed in the water and corresponding decrease of sharks landed on dry sand. This study demonstrated direct evidence of conservation-based changes in angler behavior following effective research communication and involvement of anglers in research. Outreach and engagement initiatives aimed at providing best handling practices to recreational anglers should be easily digestible, widely available, and an important component of future research.
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    Variable post-release mortality in common shark species captured in Texas shore-based recreational fisheries
    (PLoS ONE, 2023-02-13) Binstock, Addie L.; Richards, Travis; Wells, R.J. David; Drymon, J. Marcus; Gibson-Banks, Kesley; Streich, Matthew K.; Stunz, Gregory W.; White, Connor F.; Whitney, Nicholas M.; Mohan, John A.
    The practice of catch and release fishing is common among anglers but has been shown to cause unintended mortalities in some species. Current post-release mortality estimates used in coastal shark stock assessments are typically derived from boat-based shark fisheries, which differ from shore-based operations that expose sharks to potentially more stressful environmental and handling conditions. Recreational post-release mortality rates in shore-based fisheries must be quantified to improve stock assessment models and to create guidelines that protect species from overexploitation. Here, we partnered with experienced anglers acting as citizen scientists to deploy pop-up satellite archival transmitting tags (PSAT, n = 22) and acceleration data loggers (ADLs, n = 22). on four commonly caught sharks including the blacktip shark (Carcharhinus limbatus, n = 11), bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas, n = 14), tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier, n = 6), and great hammerheads (Sphyrna mokarran, n = 2). Mortality occurred within minutes to hours post-release. If evidence of mortality occurred after normal diving behavior had been re-established for 10 days, then the mortality was considered natural and not related to the catch-and-release process. Post-release mortality estimates ranged from 0% for bull and tiger sharks to 45.5% for blacktip sharks. Of the two great hammerheads, one died within 30 minutes post-release while the other exhibited mortality characteristics 14 days after release. Moribund blacktip sharks experienced on average 3.4–4.9°C warmer water compared with survivors. Recovery periods were estimated for survivors of each species and were highly variable, differing based on duration of tag deployment. High variability in responses to capture and release between species demonstrates the need for species-specific assessments of post-release mortality in shore-based recreational fisheries.
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    Habitat-Specific Reproductive Potential of Red Snapper: A Comparison of Artificial and Natural Reefs in the Western Gulf of Mexico
    (American Fisheries Society, 2018-07-16) Downey, Charles H.; Streich, Matthew K.; Brewton, Rachel A.; Ajemian, Matthew J.; Wetz, Jennifer J.; Stunz, Gregory W.
    Energy exploration in the Gulf of Mexico (hereafter, Gulf) has resulted in the addition of numerous oil and gas pro-duction platforms that create structurally complex habitat in an area otherwise dominated by barren mud/sand bottom. How these artificial structures affect fish populations is largely unknown, and there is ongoing debate regarding their value as surrogate habitats for ecologically and economically important reef fish species. Thus, the purpose of this study was to characterize trends in Red Snapper Lutjanus campechanus reproductive potential in the western Gulf at oil and gas platform reefs relative to reproductive potential at natural banks. Red Snapper (n=1,585) were collected during 2013–2015 from standing platforms, decommissioned platform artificial reefs, and natural banks by using standardized vertical line gear. Comparisons of gonadosomatic index, male : female ratios, batch fecundity, annual fecundity, spawning frequency, and number of spawning-capable individuals indicated that Red Snapper reproductive biology was similar among natural bank, standing platform, and artificial reef habitats. These results suggest that in terms of reproductive output, fish inhabiting artificial reefs are functionally similar to similar-aged fish on natural banks. This work can be used to make informed management decisions and suggests that there are benefits to converting decommissioned platforms into designated artificial reefs. Future studies should consider site-specific characteristics, such as depth, vertical relief, and proximity to other structures, to elucidate how habitat characteristics may influence reproduction, ultimately improving future artificial reef deployments for fisheries enhancement in the western Gulf.
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    Structural and functional similarity of epibenthic communities on standing and reefed platforms in the northwestern Gulf of Mexico
    (Elsevier Ltd., 2018-09-22) Rezek, Ryan J.; Lebreton, Benoit; Palmer, Terence A.; Stunz, Gregory W.; Pollack, Jennifer Beseres
    Fossil fuel extraction in the Gulf of Mexico currently involves the use of approximately 2000 active oil and gas production platforms. These artificial structures provide a number of ecological functions including habitat provision for epibenthic invertebrates and production of food and refuge for a variety of fish species. To mitigate the loss of habitat when active platforms are decommissioned, Rigs-to-Reefs programs maintain existing com- munities by removing the upper 26 m of platform structure and converting upper and lower portions into ar- tificial reefs. We examined the epibenthic communities of two standing platforms at 5 m and 30 m depths and three reefed platforms at 30 m depths. A combination of stable isotope and community analysis was used to assess the structure and food web functioning of epibenthic communities among these site-types. Reefed plat- forms (30 m) supported communities with similar food web structure as 5 m and 30 m standing platform communities. However, community composition in standing platform and reefed platform sites at 30 m differed from those of standing platform sites at 5 m depths. Results indicate that, although loss of shallow water habitat associated with platform reefing may diminish some aspects of biodiversity, reefed platforms support similar fundamental ecological functions as standing platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. Thus, the current reefing practice of removal of the upper 26 m of the structure does not substantially influence the functionality of these systems, and the retained structure maintains beneficial habitat for epibenthic communities.
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    The importance of newly-opened tidal inlets as spawning corridors for adult Red Drum (Sciaenops ocellatus)
    (Elsevier B.V., 2018-12-05) Hall, Quentin A.; Curtis, Judson M.; Williams, Jason; Stunz, Gregory W.
    The ability to emigrate from estuarine nursery areas to spawning grounds is essential for the persistence of estuarine dependent species such as Red Drum, (Sciaenops ocellatus). Typically in this region, tidal inlets are the only mechanism for this transfer. Cedar Bayou, a natural tidal inlet, was deliberately closed in 1979 but was recently dredged and reopened. The inlet allows for direct water exchange between the Gulf of Mexico and Mesquite Bay, Texas, USA, and represents a unique opportunity to study estuarine dependent species’ migration processes. Adult Red Drum were implanted with acoustic transmitters that allowed us to track their movement patterns before and after the reopening of Cedar Bayou. The goals of this study were to: 1) determine if Red Drum choose migration routes opportunistically in Texas waters; and 2) elucidate general movement patterns and residency estimates for Red Drum in Texas bays. Red Drum showed relatively little movement during the pre-opening period and summer, even after the inlet was restored. Once open, fish actively traversed through Cedar Bayou during the months commonly associated with spawning migrations and coincident with a drop in water temperature. These results demonstrate that Red Drum choose migration corridors opportunistically, thus opening tidal inlets such as Cedar Bayou can provide maturing Red Drum with greater connectivity between estuaries and spawning grounds in the open Gulf of Mexico.
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    Conceptual Framework for Assessing Ecosystem Health
    (Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management, 2019-03-25) Harwell, Mark A.; Gentile, John H.; McKinney, Larry D.; Tunnell Jr., John W.; Dennison, William C.; Kelsey, R. Heath; Stanzel, Kiersten M.; Stunz, Gregory W.; Withers, Kim; Tunnell, Jace
    Over the past century, the environment of the Gulf of Mexico has been significantly altered and impaired by extensive human activities. A national commitment to restore the Gulf was finally initiated in response to the unprecedented Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. Consequently, there is a critical need for an assessment framework and associated set of indicators that can characterize the health and sustainability of an ecosystem having the scale and complexity of the Gulf. The assessment framework presented here was developed as an integration of previous ecological risk–and environmental management–based frameworks for assessing ecosystem health. It was designed to identify the natural and anthropogenic drivers, pressures, and stressors impinging on ecosystems and ecosystem services, and the ecological conditions that result, manifested as effects on valued ecosystem components. Four types of societal and ecological responses are identified: reduction of pressures and stressors, remediation of existing stressors, active ecosystem restoration, and natural ecological recovery. From this conceptual framework are derived the specific indicators to characterize ecological condition and progress toward achieving defined ecological health and sustainability goals. Additionally, the framework incorporates a hierarchical structure to communicate results to a diversity of audiences, from research scientists to environmental managers and decision makers, with the level of detail or aggregation appropriate for each targeted audience. Two proof‐of‐concept studies were conducted to test this integrated assessment and decision framework, a prototype Texas Coastal Ecosystems Report Card, and a pilot study on enhancing rookery islands in the Mission‐Aransas Reserve, Texas, USA. This Drivers–Pressures–Stressors–Condition–Responses (DPSCR4) conceptual framework is a comprehensive conceptual model of the coupled human–ecological system. Much like its predecessor, the ecological risk assessment framework, the DPSCR4conceptual framework can be tailored to different scales of complexity, different ecosystem types with different stress regimes, and different environmental settings
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    A Comparison of Private Recreational Fishing Harvest and Effort for Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper during Derby and Extended Federal Seasons and Implications for Future Management
    (North American Journal of Fisheries Management, 2019-09-23) Topping, Tara S.; Streich, Matthew K.; Fisher, Mark R.; Stunz, Gregory W.
    Fisheries managers often use regulations such as bag, size, and season limits to manage recreational anglers and prevent overharvest, and this has been the case for the Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper Lutjanus campechanus fishery, which has been highly regulated for over 20 years. During this period, the federal season for private recreational anglers has decreased from year-round in 1996 to only 3 d in 2017. However, in 2017 the private recreational season was reopened for an additional 39 d. This scenario allowed us to examine a very short, derby-style initial season with an unexpected extended season and make comparisons with longer-term data sets from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's angler-intercept program, where we hypothesized that harvest and effort may not be directly related to season length. Our data indicated that there were higher harvest and effort rates during the initial season than during the extended season, and these differences were a function of extended season length (i.e., future access) and weather. The harvest and effort rates of the extended season were not proportional to the initial season, suggesting that recreational anglers compensated for reductions in season length by compressing their effort into the shortened season. While our results suggest that an extended season results in a reduction of daily harvest and effort rates, it is important to have programs in place to closely monitor the total harvest in a timely manner to prevent overharvest.
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    Trophic ecology of red snapper Lutjanus campechanus on natural and artificial reefs: interactions between annual variability, habitat, and ontogeny
    (Inter-Research, 2020-02-06) A. Brewton, Rachel; H. Downey, Charles; K. Streich, Matthew; J. Wetz, Jennifer; J. Ajemian, Matthew; W. Stunz, Gregory
    In the Gulf of Mexico (GOM), oil and gas platforms have created an expansive network of artificial reefs. Generally, policies mandate removal of these structures post-production; however, many enter ‘Rigs-to-Reefs’ (RTR) programs that convert the rig materials into artificial reefs (‘reefing’). Despite the growth of RTR programs worldwide, the functionality of the resulting habitats remains uncertain, particularly due to the lack of comparative studies with natural systems. To address this data gap as it relates to trophic ecology, we compared annual, ontogenetic, and habitat-specific diet and stable isotope signatures (δ13C and δ15N) of adult red snapper Lutja - nus campe chanus (n = 1585) from relic coralgal natural reefs to those of fish from standing and reefed platforms located in similar depth strata of the northwestern GOM. Stomach content analyses revealed significant effects of year, habitat, and total length on prey composition. Subsequent analyses of stable isotope values by size class identified a non-linear relationship with ontogeny. δ13C and δ15N values at reefed platforms and natural reefs decreased in the medium size class (401− 600 mm total length), whereas fish from standing platforms exhibited more consistent feeding patterns across ontogeny. Annual variability was also observed in δ13C and δ15N values, with 2013 and 2014 significantly different from 2015. These findings suggest that the trophic impacts of habitat type on reef fishes are more complex than previously considered in the GOM and that reefed platforms provide foraging opportunities more similar to natural reefs than standing platforms.
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    An assessment of two visual survey methods for documenting fish community structure on artificial platform reefs in the Gulf of Mexico
    (Elsevier B.V., 2020-01-07) J. Wetz, Jennifer; J. Ajemian, Matthew; Shipley, Brooke; W. Stunz, Gregory
    Non-extractive visual survey methods are commonly used to assess a variety of marine habitats. The use of Underwater Visual Census (UVC) by SCUBA divers is predominant; however, remotely acquired video data (e.g., cameras systems, remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), submersibles) are becoming more frequently used to acquire community data. Both remote and diver-based surveys are currently used to survey artificial reef habitat in the Northwestern Gulf of Mexico (GOM) and have associated error due to inherent method bias. Because survey methods that most accurately document the occurrence and estimated abundance of several important fisheries species are greatly needed in the GOM, we compared data collected on the same days and sites from both Roving Diver Surveys (RDS) and micro-ROV surveys conducted on reefed oil and gas platforms. The combined datasets identified a total of 56 species from 22 families, and there was no significant difference in measured species richness between a comprehensive 30 min ROV survey and RDS. Five species of federally managed fish in the GOM were more frequently detected by ROV, as were the majority of species in the Lutjanid and Carangid families. However, abundance estimates from RDS surveys were up to an order of magnitude greater. Multivariate analyses indicated that method choice affected community composition, with Lutjanids and Carangids driving the differences. These two fish families in particular are subject to method bias, probably due to inflated abundance estimates with RDS, or alternatively, deflated estimates from ROV. Although our ROV surveys more frequently detected important fisheries species and produced conservative abundance estimates, a further examination of species distributions on these high-relief platform reefs is needed to fully determine the most accurate survey method. In addition, the attraction and/or gear avoidance of certain species to underwater vehicles deserves further investigation. Overall, our data indicate these methods are viable but the choice of survey method can have implications for the management of certain species, and that careful consideration of methodology is necessary to most accurately document species of interest.
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    Understanding and Enhancing Angler Satisfaction with Fisheries Management: Insights from the “Great Red Snapper Count”
    (North American Journal of Fisheries Management, 2021-01-05) B. Scyphers, Steven; Drymon, J. Marcus; L. Furman, Kelsi; Conley, Elizabeth; Niwa, Yvette; E. Jefferson, Amanda; W. Stunz, Gregory
    Management of Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper Lutjanus campechanus has been a topic of much scientific debate and intensive public scrutiny. In response to political, public, and management desires for more robust data on Red Snapper populations, a gulfwide initiative commonly referred to as the “Great Red Snapper Count” (GRSC) was funded to estimate the absolute abundance of Red Snapper in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico. Here, we describe the results of an online survey designed to (1) characterize the social dimensions of Red Snapper anglers, (2) measure satisfaction with current Red Snapper populations and regulations, (3) assess overall patterns of awareness of the GRSC, and (4) evaluate the potential benefits of GRSC stakeholder engagement videos. A key finding of our survey was that awareness of the GRSC was associated with up to three times higher satisfaction with fisheries management. Through an in-survey experiment, we found that anglers that were presented a video on specific GRSC project components reported slightly higher management satisfaction than those presented an overview video or no video. Collectively, our results indicate that angler awareness, when underpinned by effective engagement and outreach activities, can enhance angler satisfaction.
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    Designing Cost-Effective Artificial Reefs: Fine-Scale Movement and Habitat Use of Red Snapper around a Nearshore Artificial Reef Complex
    (American Fisheries Society, 2021-09-18) Banks, Kesley Gibson; M. Curtis, Judson; A. Williams, Jason; J. Wetz, Jennifer; W. Stunz, Gregory
    Artificial reefs are commonly used to provide structured habitat in areas with limited natural habitat to enhance the environment. Creating artificial reefs is expensive, and materials are often limited; thus, discussions are needed regarding the best material and design to maximize reefing efficiency while best meeting the goal of reefing programs. We tracked Red Snapper Lutjanus campechanus, an economically important and reef-dependent species, by using a Vemco Positioning System to determine fine-scale movements and habitat use around a nearshore reef comprised of three types of reefing structure: concrete reef pyramids, concrete culverts, and a sunken ship. Habitat use (core volume and home range, or the probability of a fish being absent 50% or 5% of the time, respectively) was significantly different by month, with the largest movements during summer months. Mean depth values also differed by study month (February–August), with Red Snapper residing deepest in the water column during August and shallowest during April. In the summer months, differences among structure types were observed in core volume use but not home range, suggesting that Red Snapper used similar-sized areas on all three structure types. A high reported recapture rate (77%; 10 of 13 fish) indicated that these easily accessible nearshore reefs undergo heavy fishing pressure. Half of the recaptures were reported as recaptured on a structure other than their tagging structure; however, tagged fish spent the greatest percentage of time on their tagging structure. Red Snapper habitat use was influenced more by the presence of structure than by the type of reefing structure. Using the results from this study combined with a cost comparison of reef types, we argue that use of the least expensive reefing material that covers the largest area may be the best policy in designing future artificial reefs.
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    Importance of low-relief nursery habitat for reef fishes.
    (Ecosphere, 2021-06-08) Dance, M.A.; Rooker, J.R.; Kline, R.J.; Quigg, A.; Stunz, G.W.; Wells, R.J.D.; Lara, K.; Lee, J.; Suarez, B.
    Coastal restoration projects to mitigate environmental impacts have increased global demand for sand resources. Unfortunately, these resources are often extracted from sand/shell banks on the inner continental shelf, resulting in significant alteration or loss of low-relief reefs in coastal oceans. Experimental reefs (oyster shell, limestone rubble, composite) were deployed in the western Gulf of Mexico to assess their potential value as nurseries for newly settled reef fishes. Occurrence, abundance, and species richness of juvenile fishes were significantly higher on all three types of low-relief reefs compared with unconsolidated sediment. Moreover, reefs served as nursery habitat for a range of reef fish taxa (angelfishes, grunts, sea basses, snappers, and triggerfishes). Red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) was the dominant species present on all experimental reefs (100% occurrence), and mean density of this species was markedly higher on each of the three low-relief reefs (>40.0 individuals/reef) relative to comparable areas over unconsolidated sediment (0.2 individuals). Our results suggest creation or restoration of structurally complex habitat on the inner shelf has the potential to markedly increase early life survival and expedite the recovery of exploited reef fish populations, and therefore may represent a critical conservation tool for increasing recruitment and maintaining reef fish diversity.
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    Diel vertical habitat use observations of a scalloped hammerhead and a bigeye thresher in the northern Gulf of Mexico
    (Fishes, 2022-06-24) Anderson, T; Meese, E.N.; Drymon, J.M.; Stunz, G.W.; Falterman, B.; Menjivar, E.; Wells, R.J.D.
    Understanding habitat use of elasmobranchs in pelagic environments is complicated due to the mobility of these large animals and their ability to move great distances in a three-dimensional environment. The Gulf of Mexico is a region where many highly migratory pelagic shark species occur, while in close proximity to coastal, anthropogenic activity including recreational and commercial fisheries. This study provides summary information on the vertical habitat use for a single male scalloped hammerhead and a single male bigeye thresher that were each caught and tagged with an archiving satellite tag. The scalloped hammerhead occupied shallow depths (<100 m) over the continental shelf during the 90 d deployment. The bigeye thresher exhibited strong patterns of diel vertical migrations by occupying depths below the thermocline (>350 m) during the day, then occupying shallower depths (50–100 m) during the night. By providing summary information, this note urges future research to provide scientific information on pelagic, highly migratory species for management efforts in the Gulf of Mexico region.
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    Influence of Hurricane Activity on Acoustic Array Efficiency: A Case Study of Red Snapper within an Artificial Reef Complex
    (Marine and Coastal Fisheries, 2022-09-27) Banks, Kesley Gibson; Streich, Matthew K.; Curtis, Judson M.; Stunz, Gregory W.
    Meteorological disturbances, such as hurricanes, can cause wide distributional changes to fish populations, but studies documenting fish movement in response to these disturbances are rare and serendipitous. We opportunistically examined how a hurricane influenced behavior of Red Snapper Lutjanus campechanus at an artificial reef complex in the western Gulf of Mexico. Red Snapper had a variety of responses, with some fish emigrating and some remaining on site during Hurricane Harvey—a category 4 storm. Hurricane-induced destruction or alteration of habitat may alter space use behavior of fish. However, caution should be used when interpreting behavior without the inclusion of array performance, which may change due to environmental conditions. Importantly, when acoustic array efficiency was not accounted for in space use analyses, mean kernel utilization distribution (m3) was marginally different among the periods before, during, and after Hurricane Harvey. However, when mean daily array efficiency was included as a covariate, space use among the three periods was not significantly different. Hurricanes can affect the movement and residency of marine species and can be an important driver in the displacement of populations and degradation of habitats, but array efficiency should be incorporated to prevent misinterpreting the behaviors of tagged fish.
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    Behavior and Ecology of Silky Sharks Around the Chagos Archipelago and Evidence of Indian Ocean Wide Movement
    (Frontiers in Marine Science, 2020-12-16) Curnick, David J.; Andrzejaczek, Samantha; Jacoby, David M. P.; Coffey, Daniel M.; Carlisle, Aaron B.; Chapple, Taylor K.; Ferretti, Francesco; Schallert, Robert J.; White, Timothy; Block, Barbara A.; Koldewey, Heather J.; Collen, Ben
    Silky sharks (Carcharhinus falciformis) represent a major component of global shark catch, both directly and as bycatch, and populations are declining as a result. An improved understanding of their movement ecology is needed to support conservation efforts. We deployed satellite and acoustic tags (2013–2018) and analyzed historical fisheries records (1997–2009), to investigate the spatial ecology of silky sharks in the central Indian Ocean and a large Marine Protected Area (MPA; 640,000 km2) around the Chagos Archipelago. We observed high fidelity to the MPA, and a sustained diurnal association with a seamount complex, with individuals moving off at night and returning at sunrise. Yet, we also observed large-scale divergent movements in two satellite tagged individuals and documented the furthest recorded displacement distance for a satellite tagged silky shark to date, with one individual moving from the MPA to the Kenyan coast—a displacement distance of 3,549 km (track distance ∼4,782 km). Silky sharks undertook diel vertical migrations and oscillatory diving behavior, spending > 99% of their time in the top 100 m, and diving to depths of greater than 300 m, overlapping directly with typical deployments of purse seine and longline sets in the Indian Ocean. One individual was recorded to a depth of 1,112 m, the deepest recorded silky shark dive to date. Individuals spent 96% of their time at liberty within water temperatures between 24 and 30°C. Historic fisheries data revealed that silky sharks were a major component of the shark community around the archipelago, representing 13.69% of all sharks caught by longlines before the fishery closed in 2010. Over half (55.88%) of all individuals caught by longlines and purse seiners were juveniles. The large proportion of juveniles, coupled with the high site fidelity and residence observed in some individuals, suggests that the MPA could provide considerable conservation benefits for silky sharks, particularly during early life-history stages. However, their high mobility potential necessitates that large MPAs need to be considered in conjunction with fisheries regulations and conservation measures in adjacent EEZs and in areas beyond national jurisdiction.
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    Interspecific variation in juvenile snapper otolith chemical signatures in the northern Gulf of Mexico
    (Inter-Research, 2014-06-03) Patterson III, William F.; Barnett, Beverly K.; Zapp Sluis, Michelle; Cowan Jr., James H.; Shiller, Alan M.
    The objective of this study was to evaluate whether age-0 lane snapper Lutjanus synagris otolith chemical signatures could serve as accurate proxies for those of its congener, red snapper L. campechanus, among northern Gulf of Mexico (GOM) nursery regions. Red (n = 90) and lane (n = 53) snappers were sampled from 3 regions of the northern GOM in fall 2005, and their otolith chemistry was analyzed with sector field-inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (Ba:Ca, Mg:Ca, Mn:Ca, Sr:Ca, Li:Ca) or stable isotope ratio-mass spectrometry (δ13C and δ18O). Chemical signatures were significantly different among regions (MANOVA, p < 0.001) and between species (MANOVA, p = 0.029), with the species effect being driven by significant differences in 4 of the 7 constituents analyzed (ANOVA, p < 0.036). The significant region effect persisted (MANOVA, p < 0.001), but the species effect was non-significant (MANOVA, p = 0.964) when constituent values were normalized to species-specific means. Mean regional classification accuracies from linear discriminant functions computed with otolith constituent data were 84% for lane snapper and 80% for red snapper whether data were normalized or not. Maximum likelihood models parameterized with normalized lane snapper otolith chemistry data estimated red snapper regional composition reasonably well among mixed-region samples (mean error = 9.7% among models). Therefore, it appears age-0 lane snapper otolith chemical signatures can serve as accurate proxies for those of red snapper in the northern GOM. These results have broader implications for deriving natural tags based on otolith chemistry for fishes that may have low abundance in parts of their range.
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    Diel Vertical Habitat Use Observations of a Scalloped Hammerhead and a Bigeye Thresher in the Northern Gulf of Mexico
    (MDPI, 2022-06-24) Anderson, Taylor; Meese, Emily N.; Drymon, J. Marcus; Stunz, Gregory W.; Falterman, Brett; Menjivar, Elias; Wells, R. J. David
    Understanding habitat use of elasmobranchs in pelagic environments is complicated due to the mobility of these large animals and their ability to move great distances in a three-dimensional environment. The Gulf of Mexico is a region where many highly migratory pelagic shark species occur, while in close proximity to coastal, anthropogenic activity including recreational and commercial fisheries. This study provides summary information on the vertical habitat use for a single male scalloped hammerhead and a single male bigeye thresher that were each caught and tagged with an archiving satellite tag. The scalloped hammerhead occupied shallow depths (<100 m) over the continental shelf during the 90 d deployment. The bigeye thresher exhibited strong patterns of diel vertical migrations by occupying depths below the thermocline (>350 m) during the day, then occupying shallower depths (50–100 m) during the night. By providing summary information, this note urges future research to provide scientific information on pelagic, highly migratory species for management efforts in the Gulf of Mexico region.