Juvenile fish assemblages collected on unconsolidated sediments of the southeast United States continental shelf


Walsh, Harvey J., Katrin E. Marancik, and Jonathan A. Hare
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Patterns were investigated in juvenile fish use of unconsolidated sediments on the southeast United States continental shelf off Georgia. Juvenile fish and environmental data were sampled at ten stations along a 110-km cross-shelf transect, including four stations surrounding Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary (Gray’s Reef NMFS). Cross-shelf stations were sampled approximately quarterly from spring 2000 to winter 2002. Additional stations were sampled on three transects inshore of Gray’s Reef NMS and four transects offshore of the Sanctuary during three cruises to investigate along-shelf patterns in the juvenile fish assemblages. Samples were collected in beam trawls, and 121 juvenile taxa, of which 33 were reef-associated species, were identified. Correspondence analysis on untransformed juvenile fish abundance indicated a cross-shelf gradient in assemblages, and the station groupings and assemblages varied seasonally. During the spring, fall, and winter, three cross-shelf regions were identified: inner-shelf, mid-shelf, and outer-shelf regions. In the summer, the shelf consisted of a single juvenile fish assemblage. Water depth was the primary environmental variable correlated with cross-shelf assemblages. However, salinity, density, and water column stratification also correlated with the distribution of assemblages during the spring, fall, and winter, and along with temperature likely influenced the distribution of juvenile fish. No along-shelf spatial patterns were found in the juvenile fish assemblages, but the along-shelf dimension sampled was small (~60 km). Our results revealed that a number of commercially and recreationally important species used unconsolidated sediments on the shelf off Georgia as juvenile habitat. We conclude that management efforts would be improved through a greater recognition of the importance of these habitats to fish production and the interconnectedness of multiple habitats in the southeast U.S. continental shelf ecosystem.