Estuaries Vital To The Productivity Of Southeastern U.S. Fisheries

ANAHEIM, Calif -- About 80 percent of the commercially important seafood species along the Southeastern United States spend parts of their lives in estuaries, brackish coastal nursery areas that show signs of being degraded by human activities, according to a Duke University marine ecologist.

"When salt marsh habitat and production is lost, when estuarine creeks and rivers are anoxic (oxygen depleted), when seagrass beds are disappearing, all those things are telling us that the habitat on which these organisms depend is being degraded," said Larry Crowder, a professor at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment Marine Laboratory in Beaufort, N.C.

"One reason we're at the table talking about habitat is because many of these fish stocks are heavily over-harvested," he added. "We have to examine what are the habitat effects and how serious they are."

Crowder spoke in an interview before delivering the same message in a report prepared for presentation Sunday at the American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual meeting. He said affected fish and shellfish include such well-known species as flounder, spot, croaker, menhaden, blue crab and shrimp.

The Duke researcher, formerly a faculty member at N.C. State University in Raleigh, spent about seven years in a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-funded study of the life histories of estuary dependent fish that range between Cape Canaveral, Fla., and Cape Hatteras, N.C.

He is currently studying how marine life respond to changing conditions in North Carolina's largest estuarine system, Pamlico Sound, as well as on the Neuse River that supplies the sound with part of its upstream water.

Research suggests that after spawning out on the continental shelf in the winter, many Southeastern species then migrate shoreward into estuaries the following spring. They then spend the first vital year or two of their lives ther

Contact: Monte Basgall
Duke University

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