Island in the Stream: Oceanography and Fisheries of the Charleston Bump

The Charleston Bump: An Island of Essential Fish Habitat in the Gulf Stream

George R. Sedberry, John C. Mcgovern, and Oleg Pashuk


Abstract.—The Charleston Bump is a complex bottom feature of great topographic relief located southeast of Charleston, South Carolina. This bottom feature deflects the Gulf Stream offshore in the South Atlantic Bight, and establishes permanent and temporary eddies, gyres, and associated upwellings in the warm Gulf Stream flow. Thermal fronts associated with Gulf Stream deflection, and die bottom feature itself, are believed to be attractive to large pelagic fishes, or result in concentrations of larvae, juveniles, and prey for larger fish. Upwelling in the region supports early life history stages of important fishery species. Deflection of the Gulf Stream may also play a direct or indirect role in transport of early life stages toward, or away from, nursery areas. Sea surface temperatures (SSTs) influenced by the Gulf Stream response to the Charleston Bump appear to have a role in determining recruitment success in gag Mycteroperca microlepis, a continental shelf reef fish. Relative cohort strength in gag was correlated (r = 0.89) to SST at 33°30’N, 78°30′ W. Variability in conditions mat affect recruitment of larvae and juveniles, combined with heavy fishing pressure on prespawning adults, may result in recruitment failure in gag. In addition to strongly influencing circulation patterns in the South Atlantic Bight, die rugged bottom topography of the Bump is an important habitat and spawning ground for wreckfish Polyprion americanus and supports die U.S. fishery for this species. As a result, die Bump is an essential habitat for this species in U.S. waters. A geographic analysis of commercial pelagic longline logbook data shows mat die Charleston Bump is an area of concentrated commercial fishing effort, and that pelagic longline fisheries also concentrate along fronts at die edges of Gulf Stream gyres and eddies downstream. The “Charleston Bump Complex” of rough bottom topography and dynamic oceanography is an essential habitat for wreckfish and highly migratory pelagic fishes, and may influence recruitment success in some continental shelf fishes.