Spawning Aggregations

Full Title: Cooperative monitoring program for spawning aggregations in the Gulf of Mexico: an assessment of existing information, data gaps and research priorities

This project identified fish spawning aggregation areas in the Gulf of Mexico and developed a framework for a long-term, cooperative research program focused on fish spawning aggregations.

The Team: Brad Erisman (Lead Investigator, The University of Texas at Austin, berisman@utexas.edu), William Heyman (LGL Ecological Research Associates, Inc.) and Shinichi Kobara (Texas A&M University), Mandy Karnauskas (NOAA), Nick Farmer (NOAA), Susan Lowerre-Barbieri (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission), and Jorge Brenner (The Nature Conservancy)

Technical Monitor: Nick Farmer (nick.farmer@noaa.gov)

Federal Program Officer/Point of Contact: Frank Parker (frank.parker@noaa.gov)

Project Timeframe: September 2015 to August 2018

Award Amount: $391,021

Project Importance: Fish spawning aggregations (when a fish species gathers in greater than normal densities specifically  to reproduce) are key to maintaining a sustainable fish population. However, little is known about where aggregations occur and how they behave. Both commercial and recreational fishermen are concerned that they unknowingly target fish spawning aggregation sites which could reduce fish populations.

What we did: This project compiled and evaluated existing information on fish spawning aggregations in the Gulf of Mexico and used that information to design a cooperative, Gulf-wide conservation and monitoring program  for fish spawning aggregations. The investigators compiled existing biological and fisheries information for Gulf of Mexico fish species known to form spawning aggregations and those species suspected of forming spawning aggregations. First, the investigators identified existing datasets and monitoring programs in the Gulf of Mexico that could inform the regional monitoring of spawning aggregations. Next, investigators synthesized this information and convened a regional workshop where stakeholders reviewed the information and prioritized a suite of species, habitats, monitoring methods, and areas of research moving forward. Attendees included commercial and recreational fishermen as well as federal scientists involved in the stock assessment process. Finally, investigators also engaged in a comprehensive outreach and data-sharing program, including the development of a website that details the known spawning behaviour and current management  status of individual Gulf fish species.

Project Outputs and Outcomes: The project created a comprehensive website that summarized existing biological information, research data gaps and management priorities for 28 fish species of commercial, recreational and conservation importance within federal and stat waters of the U.S Gulf of Mexico.  The website acts as a centralized place for stakeholders to access interactive and downloadable databases for all 28 species, including information on life history parameters, spawning behavioural traits, spawning season timing, and existing spawning management regulations.

Management Impact: This project created the framework for a long-term, cooperative research program focused on fish spawning aggregations that could directly inform stock assessments, management strategy evaluations, and the management of national marine sanctuaries and other managed areas in the Gulf of Mexico.