Comparison of Reef-Fish Assemblages between Artificial and Geologic Habitats in the Northeastern Gulf of Mexico: Implications for Fishery-Independent Surveys
Sean F. Keenan, Theodore S. Switzer, Kevin A. Thompson, Amanda J. Tyler-Jedlund, and Anthony R. Knapp
Abstract.—Reef-fish assemblage structure was compared among multiple artificial and geologic (i.e., naturally occurring hard bottom) habitats in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico during 2014–2016 as part of a larger fishery-independent survey. Baited remote underwater video systems equipped with stereo cameras were deployed (n = 348) on 11 habitat types, classified through interpretation of side-scan sonar imagery. In the video samples, 11,801 fish were enumerated. Nonparametric analysis of reef-fish assemblages detected four clusters related to habitat; assemblages associated with geologic habitats were distinct, whereas the remaining three clusters represented groupings of artificial habitats of different size, scale, and complexity. While many species, including Vermilion Snapper Rhomboplites aurorubens and Red Snapper Lutjanus campechanus, were observed in greater numbers on artificial reef habitats, most species were observed in all habitats sampled. Among artificial reef habitats, the habitat cluster consisting of unidentified depressions, unidentified artificial reefs, construction materials, and reef modules was similar to geologic habitats in supporting larger individuals, specifically Gray Triggerfish Balistes capriscus and Red Snapper. In contrast, the habitat cluster consisting of smaller, generally solitary chicken-transport cages was inhabited by smaller individuals, including smaller Red Snapper. Although geologic reefs are the predominant reef habitat throughout much of the eastern Gulf, artificial reefs are important locally, especially in the Florida Panhandle. Accordingly, continued incorporation of artificial reef habitats within large-scale fishery-independent monitoring efforts is critical to the accurate assessment of the status of reef-fish stocks on broad spatial scales.