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Reef Fish Survey

Full Title: Optimization and expansion of Gulf-wide video survey efforts to better characterize temporal and spatial variability in reef fish assemblages in response to drivers at multiple scales: The G-FISHER (Gulf Fishery Independent Survey of Habitat and Ecosystem Resources) program

This project combines habitat and water quality information with three integrated reef fish surveys to improve stock assessments of important fisheries by producing the most comprehensive database available for Gulf reef-fish abundance, size, and community composition.

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The Team: Theodore (Ted) Switzer (lead investigator, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI),, Luiz Barbieri (FWC, FWRI), Sean Keenan (FWC, FWRI), Kevin Thompson (FWC, FWRI), Matthew Campbell (NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Center (SEFSC)), Christopher Gardner (NOAA SEFSC), Mary Christman (MCC Statistical Consulting), Alexis Janosik (University of West Florida)

Technical Monitors: Nick Farmer ( and John Walter (

Science Program Liaison: Julien Lartigue ( 

Federal Program Officer: Frank Parker (

Research Area: Multiple species

Award Amount: $6,018,538

Award Period: This project began in September 2019 and will end in August 2024.

Why it matters: Gulf of Mexico reef fish assemblages are not well understood. Our understanding is limited by a lack of information on how reef fish populations respond to change and the processes that drive their response. These processes (e.g. foraging and growth at local scales and reproduction and recruitment at regional scales) are complex and involve factors such as habitat availability, episodic events (e.g. red tide, hypoxia, oil spills), environmental conditions, and fisheries management. Our capacity to understand these responses and the processes that influence them, are limited by a general lack of high-quality fishery-independent survey data collected at locations and at a frequency that matches the needs of fisheries managers.

What the team is doing: This project integrates efforts from three regional reef fish surveys that involve habitat mapping and underwater video surveys with additional sampling. New analytical approaches will be developed to integrate historical and new data, analyze time-series (i.e., samples repeatedly collected at the same location), and examine interannual trends from 1992 to 2024. These analytical approaches will be applied to survey data to answer questions related to responses of multiple species to changing conditions.

Expected Outcome: This project will create the most comprehensive database available for Gulf reef-fish (abundance, size, assemblage structure), their habitat (at the scale of individual reefs as well as large areas of the Gulf of Mexico), and environmental factors. The project will advance understanding of interannual variability in reef-fish population dynamics and assemblage structure and relate them to key environmental factors. Analytical products will improve single-species stock assessments and ecosystem modeling efforts for use by fisheries managers.

Project Updates: Despite a global pandemic, the G-FISHER program launched in 2020 and conducted over 1,000 stereo-baited remote underwater video (S-BRUV) deployments and collected 10’s of km2 side scan sonar imagery of benthic habitats in the eastern Gulf. Gulf-wide sampling resumed in 2021 and over 1,500 BRUV deployments have been completed to date. Project staff are currently processing data from both habitat mapping and S-BRUV surveys, and eDNA data are currently being analyzed. Project PIs continue to be heavily involved in federal reef fish stock assessments; since the outset of the project, historical data have been provided for four completed or ongoing stock assessments, and efforts are ongoing to develop protocols for incorporating data collected under G-FISHER into future assessments.