Age Composition and Distribution of Red Drum (Sciaenops ocellatus) in Offshore Waters of the North Central Gulf of Mexico: An Evaluation of a Stock Under a Federal Harvest Moratorium

Thursday, September 12, 2013: 2:20 PM
Manning (The Marriott Little Rock)
Sean Powers , Marine Sciences, University of South Alabama and Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Dauphin Island, AL
Crystal Hightower , Marine Sciences, University of South Alabama, Mobile, AL
Marcus Drymon , Center for Ecosystem Based Fishery Management, Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Dauphin Island, AL
Because of a lack of fishery- dependent data, assessment of the recovery of fish stocks that undergo the most aggressive form of management, namely harvest moratoriums, remains a challenge. Large schools of red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus) were common along the northern Gulf of Mexico until the late 1980s when increased fishing effort quickly depleted the stock. After 27 years of harvest moratorium on red drum in federal waters, the stock is in need of reassessment; however, fisherydependent data are not available in federal waters and fishery-independent data are limited. We document the distribution, age composition, growth, and condition of red drum in coastal waters of the north central Gulf of Mexico, using data collected from a nearshore, randomized, bottom longline survey. Age composition of the fishery-independent catch indicates low mortality of fish age 6 and above and confirms the effectiveness of the federal fishing moratorium. Bottom longline surveys may be a cost-effective method for developing fishery-independent indices for red drum provided additional effort can be added to nearshore waters (<20 m depth). As with most stocks under harvest bans, effective monitoring of the recovery of red drum will require the development of fishery-independent indices. With limited economic incentive to evaluate non-exploited stocks, the most cost-effective approach to developing such monitoring is expansion of existing fisheryindependent surveys. We examine this possibility for red drum in the Gulf of Mexico and recommend the bottom longline survey conducted by the National Marine Fisheries Service expand effort in nearshore areas to allow for the development of long-term abundance indices for red drum.