Bluefin Tuna Larvae

Full Title: Effects of nitrogen sources and plankton food-web dynamics on habitat quality for the larvae of Atlantic bluefin tuna in the Gulf of Mexico

This project will investigate the link between nutrients, food availability, and the survival of Atlantic bluefin tuna larvae which can be used to improve stock assessments for this commercially and recreationally important species.

Figure depicting area of the Gulf of Mexico where researchers will collect Bluefin Tuna larvae (red square)

The Team: John Lamkin (Lead Investigator, NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Center (SEFSC)), Trika Gerard (NOAA), Angela N. Knapp (Florida State University), Michael R. Landry (Scripps Inst. of Oceanography, University of California San Diego), Karen E. Selph (University of Hawaii at Manoa), and Michael R. Stukel (Florida State University)

Technical Monitor: Barbara Muhling (

Federal Program Officer/Point of Contact: Frank Parker (

This project began in June 2017 and will end in May 2020.

Award Amount: $1,613,288

Why we care: The largest recreational fisheries in the U.S. occur in the Gulf of Mexico, including economically important species such as bluefin, skipjack, and yellowfin tuna. Atlantic bluefin tuna are highly migratory and spawn in the Gulf of Mexico, but are distributed as adults throughout the Atlantic Ocean. This migratory behavior, as well as year to year changes in environmental conditions at sites where Atlantic bluefin tuna spawn, makes management of the species complex. Being able to track how changes in nutrient availability impact tuna food webs and larval survival is essential to managing open ocean ecosystems.

What we are doing: This project will investigate the impact of variability in a key nutrient, nitrogen, on lower food webs and the resulting availability of zooplanktonic food resources for Atlantic bluefin tuna larvae in the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem. This information will allow for improvement in Atlantic bluefin tuna stock assessments by making it possible to forecast the feeding, growth, and survival of Atlantic bluefin tuna larvae based on ocean conditions. To accomplish their objectives, the investigators will determine the sources of nitrogen to the ecosystem and measure plankton biomass and rates of primary productivity. They will also assess the abundance, stomach contents, feeding selectivity, age and growth rates of Atlantic bluefin tuna larvae.

Expected Outcome: This project will improve Atlantic bluefin tuna stock assessments and ultimately improve understanding of open-water ecosystems and how variations in productivity impact bluefin tuna.