by Russel Brodie and Ted Switzer
The Fisheries-Independent Monitoring program recently completed the first year of field sampling for a study funded by NOAA Marine Fisheries Initiative (MARFIN) to evaluate the utility of trawls and small fish traps to provide data on/regarding juvenile (age 0-1) red snapper and other managed fishes in the U.S. South Atlantic (SA). Surveys were conducted using a 12.8-m semi-balloon trawl and Antillean Z-traps within nearshore waters (10 – 70 m) off central and northeast Florida from July-October. Trawl surveys targeted low-relief soft-bottom/shell habitats which are underrepresented in current fisheries-independent surveys in the SA despite having been documented as red snapper nursery habitat in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM). Small-mesh fish traps targeted low- to high-relief hard bottom and artificial reef habitats not accessible by trawls to investigate whether SA juvenile red snapper are exploiting different habitats from what has been documented in the GOM. In 2015, 86 trap stations (400 individual trap sets) were sampled, and 110 red snapper ranging in size from 124 – 329 mm standard length were captured. At the same time, 93 trawl stations were sampled (68,693 fish and invertebrates collected) over 18 sampling days aboard the R/V Georgia Bulldog. A total of 83 red snapper were collected ranging in size from 42 – 119 mm fork length. Combined, these two surveys captured in one year as many juvenile red snapper as had been reported in over four decades of research in the region. Data from this three-year pilot study will be used to develop recommendations for a fisheries-independent monitoring survey designed to provide valuable life history data as well as recruitment indices for juvenile red snapper and other juvenile reef fishes in the SA.