Varying Mesoscale Structures Influence Larval Fish Distribution in the Northern Gulf of Mexico

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Fisheries oceanography, Fronts and eddies, Ichthyoplankton distribution, Loop Current, Mesoscale variability, Thunnus thynnus

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The variability of mesoscale circulation structures in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) was examined using satellite altimeter data collected between 1992 and 2008, and linkages between ocean circulation and the spatial distribution of larval fish were assessed. The abundance and distribution of the larvae of 5 pelagic fish taxa (Auxis spp., Euthynnus alleteratus, Thunnus thynnus, other Thunnus spp., and Coryphaena spp.) were estimated from surveys conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Marine Fisheries Service each spring between 1993 and 2007. We observed a tendency for higher northward extension of the Loop Current (LC) during spring each year, with maximum northern penetration in summer, although the exact location of the LC varied from year to year. Generally, higher total larval abundances occurred during years of high northward penetration in a region that was crossed by the LC during its excursions. However, the interannual variability of the LC was not mirrored in a general increase or decrease of larval fish densities in the water masses out of the LC front. Further, the results show that larvae of T. thynnus and Auxis spp. were more abundant within the boundaries of anticyclonic features (usually between 148 to 158 cm of sea surface height) and within GOM common waters, defined as the background waters in between the boundaries of mesoscale features. Our findings suggest that the position and strength of anticyclone mesoscale features in the GOM define a favorable spawning habitat for the species examined.

Citation / Publisher Attribution

Marine Ecology Progress Series, v. 463, p. 245-257