Marine Science Faculty Publications

Imprudent Fishing Harvests and Consequent Trophic Cascades on the West Florida Shelf Over the Last Half Century: a Harbinger of Increased Human Deaths from Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning along the Southeastern United States, in Response to Oligotrophication?

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harmful algal blooms, overfishing, trophic cascades

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Within the context of ubiquitous overfishing of piscivores, recent consequent increments of jellyfish and clupeids have occurred at the zooplanktivore trophic level in the eastern Gulf of Mexico (GOM), after overfishing of one of their predators, i.e. red snapper. Initiation of a local trophic cascade thence led to declines of herbivore stocks, documented here on the West Florida shelf. These exacerbating world-wide trophic cascades have resulted in larger harmful algal blooms (HABs), already present at the base of most coastal food webs. Impacts on human health have thus far been minimal within nutrient-rich coastal regions. To provide a setting for past morbidities, consideration is given to chronologies of other trophic cascades within eutrophic, cold water marine ecosystems of the Scotian Sea, in the Gulf of Alaska, off Southwest Africa, within the Barents, White, and Black Seas, in the Gulf of Maine, and finally in the North Sea. Next, comparison is now made here of recent ten-fold increments within Florida waters of both relatively benign and saxitoxic HABs, some of which are fatal to humans. These events are placed in a perspective of other warm shelf systems of the South China and Caribbean Seas to assess prior and possible future poison toxicities of oligotrophic coastal habitats. Past wide-spread kills of fishes and sea urchins over the Caribbean Sea and the downstream GOM are examined in relation to the potential transmission of dinoflagellate saxitoxin and other epizootic poison vectors by western boundary currents over larger "commons" than local embayments. Furthermore, since some HABs produce more potent saxitoxins upon nutrient depletion, recent decisions to ban seasonal fertilizer applications to Florida lawns may have unintended consequences. In the future, human-killing phytoplankton, rather than relatively benign fish-killing HABs of the past, may be dispersed along the southeastern United States seaboard.

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Continental Shelf Research, v. 31, issue 9, p. 891-911