Alternate Title

Recruitment and Essential Habitat of Juvenile Sand Seatrout (Cynoscion arenarius) in Four Estuaries Along the West Coast of Florida


The sand seatrout (Cynoscion arenarius) is an ecologically and economically important species common to estuarine and nearshore waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Currently, comprehensive information on the essential habitat of juvenile sand seatrout is limited. We analyzed data from a long-term fisheries-independent monitoring program to assess the spatial and temporal distributions of juvenile sand seatrout relative to various habitat parameters in four estuaries (Apalachicola Bay, the Suwannee River estuary, Tampa Bay, and Charlotte Harbor) along the gulf coast of Florida. A total of 25,668 sand seatrout (≤100 mm SL) were collected during monthly stratified-random sampling from Jan. 1996 through Dec. 1997 and Jan. 2001 through Dec. 2003. Specimens were collected with 21.3-m bag seines and 6.1-m otter trawls; the majority of specimens were captured in trawls from water ≥ 1.8 m deep. Juvenile sand seatrout primarily recruited into the estuaries from May through Oct., although recruitment began 1 mo earlier in Tampa Bay. Juveniles were most abundant over unvegetated mud bottoms, in mesohaline salinities, and near salt marsh vegetation. Highest abundances also occurred in small rivers, tidal creeks, and areas adjacent to the mouths of large rivers. Juveniles between 30 mm SL and 70 mm SL primarily occupied mesohaline salinities before shifting toward higher salinities as they approached 100 mm SL.