Habitat-Specific Reproductive Potential of Red Snapper: A Comparison of Artificial and Natural Reefs in the Western Gulf of Mexico




Downey, Charles H.
Streich, Matthew K.
Brewton, Rachel A.
Ajemian, Matthew J.
Wetz, Jennifer J.
Stunz, Gregory W.


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American Fisheries Society



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.






Downey, C.H., M.J. Ajemian, M.K. Streich, R.A. Brewton, J.J. Wetz, and G.W. Stunz. 2018. Habitat-specific reproductive potential of Red Snapper: A comparison of artificial and natural reefs in western Gulf of Mexico. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 147:1030-1041. doi:10.1002/tafs.10104.