Home > Explore News > Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper Larval Model Suggests Managing Fishery as Two Stocks

Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper Larval Model Suggests Managing Fishery as Two Stocks

Published on: 07/01/2024
Research Area(s): Marine Spatial Ecology / Coral
Primary Contact(s): kimberly.puglise@noaa.gov

The results from a new NCCOS-funded study simulating the dispersal and connectivity of red snapper larvae in the northern Gulf of Mexico showed that the eastern and western stocks differed in their dispersal characteristics, suggesting that these stocks should be managed separately. 

Red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) is an important commercial and recreational fishery in the northern Gulf of Mexico. In 2022, the commercial red snapper fishery was valued at over $36 million (based on the NOAA Fisheries landings database). The red snapper commercial fishery has been historically divided into two stocks - the Gulf of Mexico and the South Atlantic. Findings from this study confirm results from earlier larval studies indicating the Gulf of Mexico should be split into eastern and western stocks.

Red Snapper, Lutjanas campechanus, is a commercial species that is found throughout the Gulf of Mexico from 50-300 feet in depth. Image courtesy of Southeast Fisheries Science Center – Panama City and University of North Carolina Wilmington Undersea Vehicles Program.

This study used a 1-km high-resolution ocean model integrated with a larval dispersal model to consider how a variety of red snapper larval behaviors (i.e., egg buoyancy, larval swimming capability, and the different depths the larvae inhabit as they mature (ontogenetic vertical migration)) impacted dispersal. The simulations demonstrated that ocean currents and ontogenetic vertical migration behaviors (a change in diet or habitat during development from larval to adult stages) are influential on settling, whereas larval swimming behavior had a negligible impact. 

This work is part of  the Regional Ecosystem Prediction Program and funded by NCCOS and the Office of Ocean Exploration and Research in collaboration with the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and the National Marine Fisheries Service's Southeast Regional Office. The overarching project is investigating population connectivity for key coral, sponge, and fish species between shallow and mesophotic reefs of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary to better understand how populations are connected to help managers develop marine protected areas that are effective and benefit present and future generations.

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