Population dynamics, relative abundance, and habitat suitability for adult red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus) in nearshore waters of the north-central Gulf of Mexico

Crystal L. Hightower, J. Marcus Drymon, Amanda E. Jefferson, Matthew B. Jargowsky, Emily A. Seubert, Simon Dedman, John F. Mareska, and Sean P. Powers
Cover date
published online 19 May 2022

In the Gulf of Mexico, the red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus) is an immensely popular sportfish, yet the Gulf of Mexico stock is currently managed as data-limited in federal waters. The results of the federal stock assessment conducted in 2016 for Gulf of Mexico red drum were not recommended for providing management advice. Consequently, we sought to address data gaps highlighted in the assessment by producing up-to-date overall and sex-specific growth models, standardized indices of relative abundance, and predictions of habitat suitability and by updating estimates of natural mortality. Using a time series for the period of 2006–2018, we assigned ages of 0–36 years to 1178 red drum. A negative binomial generalized linear model including variables for year, depth, surface temperature, dissolved oxygen, and bottom salinity was used to standardize an index of relative abundance. Examination of catch per unit of effort revealed that adult red drum were significantly more abundant in state waters than in federal waters. These findings were explained by habitat suitability models, which were used to identify surface current velocity, surface temperature, and depth as the strongest predictors of relative abundance. The results of our investigation reveal that the adult spawning stock of red drum in the Gulf of Mexico is not fully protected by the catch moratorium in federal waters.

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