Benchmarking Community Structure of Estuarine-Dependent Nekton Near the Aransas Pass Inlet

Many nekton (fish, shrimp, and crab) occurring in coastal waters share a common estuarine-dependent life history strategy characterized by near-shore spawning in the Gulf of Mexico (Gulf) with larvae migrating through tidal inlets into shallow estuarine nursery habitats. Access to high quality habitat and spawning grounds via tidal inlets is essential for reproduction, growth, survival, and maintenance of these populations. Led by Dr. Judd Curtis, associate research scientist for Fisheries & Ocean Health, this study will determine baseline seasonal community structure of estuarine-dependent nekton in the Aransas Pass inlet region to establish a pre-operational benchmark prior to newly proposed industrial development in this area.

Because 75 percent of commercially or recreationally important species in the Gulf are estuarine-dependent, evaluating how anthropogenic activities may impair this connection between Gulf and bay waters is critical to understand the population dynamics in this system and how these factors may affect larval fish development and fishery productivity. The Aransas Pass inlet is the major tidal inlet for the region, and anthropogenic activities that may alter water chemistry, flow, and quality have the potential for significant negative impacts on the marine life using this migration corridor.

Newly proposed industrial development of the Aransas Pass inlet region presents a critical opportunity to establish baseline community structure in the adjacent estuarine habitats. This information will provide valuable baseline data against which future changes in this estuarine community can be measured. Furthermore, this baseline information will facilitate the development of Best Management Practices for the future preservation of estuarine habitats and aid in the protection of nursery areas for a diversity of economically and ecologically important estuarine-dependent species.

Project Objectives:

  1. Determine seasonal abundance and densities of juvenile nekton species near the Aransas Pass inlet.
  2. Determine seasonal abundance and densities of juvenile nekton species near Packery Channel as a control area.
  3. Evaluate developmental differences in fish larvae in response to environmental conditions near the Aransas Pass Inlet.