Variation In Larval Gulf Menhaden Diet, Growth and Condition During an Atypical Winter Freshwater-Discharge Event In the Northern Gulf of Mexico

Document Type


Publication Date



Coastal Sciences, Gulf Coast Research Laboratory


Ocean Science and Engineering


In January 2016, historic levels of rainfall in the upper Mississippi River Basin prompted the earliest opening of the Bonnet Carré Spillway, a water control structure on the Mississippi River that diverts flood-stage river water through an alternate pathway (Lake Pontchartrain) into the northern Gulf of Mexico. This unprecedented winter opening of the spillway coincided with the spawning season and larval ingress period for Gulf Menhaden, a forage fish species that supports the largest commercial fishery in the region. Oceanographic observations and plankton samples were collected in the Mississippi Bight region shortly after the Bonnet Carré Spillway winter opening to examine the impacts on larval Gulf Menhaden feeding, growth and condition. Three distinct water masses were identified based on temperature, salinity, and particle scattering (proxy for turbidity) characteristics. Larval Gulf Menhaden with the highest growth rates and body condition were collected in a water mass defined by relatively high temperature and salinity and relatively low turbidity and zooplankton (prey) abundance. In contrast, larvae with the slowest growth rates and poor body condition were collected in a water mass with the highest zooplankton abundance, but also highest turbidity and lowest temperature and salinity. This water mass was nearest the diversion outflow and most impacted by the spillway opening. Our results indicate that the anomalous freshwater discharge event resulted in hydrographic conditions that diminished otherwise favorable larval fish foraging habitat with abundant zooplankton prey. These findings suggest that the recent trend of Bonnet Carré Spillway openings may result in negative consequences for larval fish survival and subsequent fishery recruitment.

Publication Title

Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science



Find in your library