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Shelf-Edge Habitats in the Northeastern Gulf of Mexico—Multi-Agency, Interdisciplinary Field Work

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trapping fish
Above: A chevron fish trap, baited with squid, is brought on board the R/V Oregon II during Leg II of the recent cruise to the northeastern Gulf of Mexico. The trap contains several large grouper that will be weighed, measured, aged, and checked for sexual maturity and spawning condition.
Below: Biologists study sidescan-sonar mosaics of shelf-edge habitats, collected and processed during Leg I, to select sites for video camera and fish-trap deployments. From left to right, Doug DeVries (NMFS), Kim Davis (Center for Marine Conservation), and Felicia Coleman (FSU). biologists study sidescan-sonar mosaics
Shelf-edge reef habitats in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico are very important as spawning sites for commercially valuable fish (such as grouper and snapper), but little is known about the geology and ecology of these habitats. In 1999, the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council recommended the closure of two areas, each approximately 100 mi2, to all fishing for a period of four years, to allow study of the shelf-edge habitats and their inhabitants. Kathy Scanlon and cooperating scientists from NOAA/NMFS and Florida State University (FSU) led two back-to-back cruises in February and March 2000 on the NOAA ship R/V Oregon II to begin the task of mapping the habitats and understanding the links between seafloor geology and the biology.

Leg I was devoted to sidescan data collection, with Chuck Worley (on his maiden voyage with the USGS), Dave Nichols, Ken Parolski, VeeAnn Cross, Ann Swift, Kathy Scanlon (chief scientist) from the WHFC, and Mark Grace (NMFS, Pascagoula, MS) participating. About three-quarters of the areas of both new reserves were covered and mosaicked at sea. The mosaics were used on Leg II to select sampling sites. In addition to characterizing the benthic habitats, the data revealed several relict Pleistocene shoreline features that will be used to study sea-level history.

Leg II was an inter-disciplinary, multi-agency feat, with every minute used to accomplish several related but separate goals. Kathy Scanlon and Christopher C. Koenig (FSU) were co-chief scientists. Also participating were seven fisheries biologists from NMFS, along with Felicia Coleman from FSU, Kim Davis from the Center for Marine Conservation, and Peter Briere (USGS). Biological samples were collected using baited fish traps and hook-and-line fishing. Sediment samples were collected with a van Veen grab sampler during the night hours when many fish were sleeping. A remotely operated vehicle (ROV) was used to make videotaped observations of the fish and the seafloor habitats during the day. These data, in conjunction with additional data to be collected on future cruises, will be used to classify and map seafloor habitats.

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