Marine Science Faculty Publications

Did the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Affect Growth of Red Snapper in the Gulf of Mexico?

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Otolith, Increment width analysis, Environmental covariates, Growth rates

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The explosion of the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil platform in 2010 released more than 200 million gallons of crude oil into the northern Gulf of Mexico (GoM). Elevated levels of carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) were abundant in the upper water column throughout the event. Previous research suggests that PAHs may have negatively affected fishes in the northern GoM. Our objective was to test whether crude oil contamination from the DWH oil spill was correlated with changes in growth rates in adult Red Snapper, Lutjanus campechanus. We fit von Bertalanffy growth curves and back-calculated length-at-age using data collected from 2011–2013 during long-line surveys in the northern GoM and on the West Florida Shelf. No significant variation in von Bertalanffy growth parameters existed among the catch years; a combined-years model gave L, k, and t0 values of 82.91, 0.20, and 0.43, respectively. No significant difference existed between pre- (back-calculated) and post-DWH growth curves. However, annual widths of the fourth, fifth, and sixth increments (the dominant cohorts in the population) declined significantly post-DWH (2010–2012) by 13%, 15%, and 22%, respectively, and were significantly smaller than the mean width of each respective increment in pre-spill years (2006–2009). While the DWH event was related temporally to growth declines in the dominant adult age groups, other environmental factors (winds, temperature, and river discharge) may also affect growth. Accordingly, meridional (V) and zonal (U) winds, sea level height anomalies (a proxy for water temperature variation), and Mississippi River discharge were compared to increment widths but none of the factors were strongly correlated with variation in age-specific growth increments (maximum Pearson’s r = 0.47). Therefore, we are unable to reject the hypothesis that the DWH resulted in growth rate declines as opposed to climatic variation.

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Fisheries Research, v. 191, p. 60-68