Study finds wind, currents play key role where young fish settle

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- It's a hard life -- too young to swim, being tossed this way and that by the waves and tides, the ever-present danger of becoming a fish's lunch, the limited time to get into shallow water to avoid being sucked back into the Gulf of Mexico, the search for a patch of sea grass in which to settle.

Red drum larvae face a lot of challenges traveling from the Gulf of Mexico, where they are hatched, into the estuaries that serve as their nursery grounds. A recently completed Texas Sea Grant-funded study examined the role physical factors, such as winds, tides and currents, play in moving red drum larvae from the Gulf into the nursery grounds of Aransas and Corpus Christi bays.

Doctoral student Cheryl Brown said the study found physical factors play a key role in explaining why red drum larvae only settle in certain parts of the bays. Instead of evenly distributing red drum larvae around the bays, the winds, tides and currents tend to concentrate the larvae in certain areas, she said.

"There tends to be high settlement where sea grasses are in close proximity to the inlet when there is also a high supply of larvae," she said.

Researchers say the results of this study can be applied to other marine animals -- such as Gulf shrimp -- that spawn in the Gulf but rely on estuaries as nursery grounds. Also, when combined with the results of other research, the findings suggest that variations in currents and winds may cause fluctuations in the size of fish populations along the entire Gulf coast.

Using a computer model to simulate the exchange of water and fish larvae through Aransas Pass, researchers found that many of the "fish larvae" settled in an area of sea grasses just inside the pass. Successful larvae use pathways close to shore to enter the estuaries, Brown said. Researchers also found that 60 percent of the fish larvae make it into the inlet at some time.

"This means that this accumulation of larvae next to the shor

Contact: Ben Sherman
National Sea Grant College Program

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