Marine Artificial Reef Research and Development: Integrating Fisheries Management Objectives

A Comparison of Fish Assemblages According to Artificial Reef Attributes and Seasons in the Northern Gulf of Mexico

Jessica Jaxion-Harm, Stephen T. Szedlmayer, and Peter A. Mudrak


Abstract.—Visual census scuba surveys (n = 87) were used to compare fish assemblages among three artificial reef types: big reefs (e.g., ships), tank reefs (i.e., U.S. Army tanks) and small reefs (e.g., metal cages and concrete pyramids), over three locations on the continental shelf (inner shelf, 18–26-m depths; mid-shelf, 26–34-m depths; outer shelf, 34–41-m depths) from April 20, 2012 to November 30, 2015 in the northeast Gulf of Mexico. These surveys identified 66 fish taxa (lowest taxon: 58 species, five genera, three families), and 65 taxa were used in community comparisons. Artificial reefs were dominated by Red Snapper Lutjanus campechanus (35.3% of total fish observed), Tomtate Haemulon aurolineatum (22.4%), Vermilion Snapper Rhomboplites aurorubens (19.5%), Atlantic Spadefish Chaetodipterus faber (7.0%), Greater Amberjack Seriola dumerili (3.0%), and Gray Triggerfish Balistes capriscus (1.8%). These six most abundant species comprised 89% of the total number of individuals observed. Red Snapper and Greater Amberjack mean sizes (total length mm) were larger at big reefs, Vermilion Snapper and Atlantic Spadefish were larger at tank reefs, and Tomtates were larger at small reefs. Red Snapper, Atlantic Spadefish, and Greater Amberjacks were larger at reefs on the outer shelf, and Red Snapper, Tomtates, Vermilion Snapper, Atlantic Spadefish and Greater Amberjacks were larger in the spring. Richness and Shannon–Wiener diversity indices were higher on big reefs and tank reefs compared to small reefs. Evenness, richness, and Shannon–Wiener diversity were lower in winter compared to other seasons. Fish assemblages, based on Bray–Curtis similarities, were different among reef type, location, and season, but no interactions effects were identified. In the present study, fish assemblages on big reefs were more similar to assemblages on tank reefs in comparison to small reefs. The larger size, longer life span, and relative stability of the big reefs and tank reefs were the reef attributes most likely responsible for these assemblage associations. Similarly, more stable conditions at deeper depths (less affected by tropical storms) and proximity to deepwater reef fish communities (e.g., pinnacle reefs) most likely influenced the increased assemblage diversity on the artificial reefs at outer-shelf locations. Diversities and densities were highest during the fall. This was most likely due to increased recruitment of tropical species and new age-0 recruits that were spawned during the same year. The attributes of all artificial reefs are not identical; consequently, it is important for managers to consider how reef type, shelf location, and season affect each species’ affinity and association with artificial reefs.