Date of Award

Spring 5-8-2015

Degree Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Coastal Sciences, Gulf Coast Research Laboratory

Committee Chair

Frank Hernandez

Committee Chair Department

Coastal Sciences, Gulf Coast Research Laboratory

Committee Member 2

Jesse Filbrun

Committee Member 3

Kevin Dillon

Committee Member 3 Department

Coastal Sciences, Gulf Coast Research Laboratory

Abstract

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill (DWHOS) coincided with the pelagic larval stages of many valued commercial and recreational fishes in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Larval fish survival and eventual recruitment into adult populations may have been impacted by changes in the planktonic food web caused by the release of oil and chemical dispersants during the DWHOS event. Using samples from a long-term ichthyoplankton survey off the coast of Alabama, I sought to resolve the effects of the DWHOS on larval fishes. I compared the condition, growth, and diet of larval Spanish Mackerel (Scomberomorus maculatus), collected during summer months in years before (2007–2009), during (2010) and after (2011) the DWHOS. Comparisons of condition using morphometric analyses and length-weight relationships revealed that larvae were deeper-bodied and heavier during the DWHOS period relative to before and after spill periods. The most abundant prey items of larval S. maculatus were larval fishes, copepods, and ostracods. Diet composition did not differ significantly among the three time periods. Also, daily growth did not differ between larvae collected during and after the DWHOS (no otoliths were available to estimate growth before 2010). Overall, larval S. maculatus were resilient to harmful effects of the DWHOS. These findings will help fisheries managers better understand the impacts of the DWHOS on fisheries in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

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