Larval Fish Ingress into a Southern New Jersey Estuary: Advantages of a Long Term Sampling Program
Many economically and ecologically important fish species depend on estuarine systems. As a result, the composition, size and abundance of larvae entering the estuary can provide important fishery independent indices that could help to determine the status of populations, especially if long term data sets are available. These time series are critically important especially during a period of climate change and they provide an efficient means of untangling complex life histories of fishes. As a result of the extensive Rutgers University Marine Field Station sampling at Little Egg Inlet (weekly, over 24+ years) in southern New Jersey, we have been able to help define/elucidate several aspects relevant to management and biology of estuarine-dependent species in the Middle Atlantic Bight. This has included species composition and annual timing of ingress for larval fish assemblages including summer flounder, winter flounder, Conger eels, and Atlantic menhaden. Related studies have identified settlement habitat for winter flounder, swimming ability of ingressing eels, and pseudonurseries for butterflyfishes. In addition, analysis suggests that several changes in abundance of selected species are the result of climate change, recovery of local spawning stocks, or other factors that could only be detected with a long time series.