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Reproductive Status of Callinectes sapidus as an Indicator of Spawning Habitat in the South Atlantic Bight, USA

Abstract

Stocks of estuarine migrant species can be challenging to assess due to a relative lack of abundance data in offshore areas and complex interactions between spawning behavior and estuarine geomorphology. The blue crab Callinectes sapidus in the South Atlantic Bight (SAB), USA, inhabits estuaries ranging from large semi-enclosed bays to narrow river mouths where estuarine conditions extend onto the continental shelf. Mature female reproductive status was used as an indicator to identify spawning habitat, and data from long-term fishery independent surveys were used to evaluate spatiotemporal trends in abundance of spawning females. Long-term data (1990–2011) were obtained from the Southeast Area Marine Assessment Program (SEAMAP) South Atlantic survey and the Georgia Ecological Monitoring Trawl Survey. Biological samples were obtained from estuarine and offshore areas of Georgia for a detailed analysis of habitat use. Reproductive status of mature female blue crabs (ovigery, ovary development, egg remnants) was indicative of a summer peak in spawning in Georgia that occurred primarily on the continental shelf as far as 13 km offshore. SEAMAP data provide strong evidence that blue crab females spawn on the continental shelf throughout the SAB, with substantial declines in spawner abundance over time. Empirical orthogonal function analysis of SEAMAP time series was indicative of regional spawning areas defined by biogeography which are poorly aligned with fishery management jurisdictions. Indicators of reproductive status provided a powerful method for identifying spawning habitats of an estuarine migrant species, especially when spawners may disperse over the continental shelf and occur at low density.

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Acknowledgments

This project would not have been possible without the extensive sampling efforts and data contributed by the SEAMAP South Atlantic Survey conducted by South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and the Georgia Ecological Monitoring Trawl Survey conducted by the Coastal Resources Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Jeanne Boylan, Christine Ewers, Pat Geer, Robbie Lowery, Charlie Teeple, and Pearse Webster helped us obtain biological samples and survey data. Richard Forward, Zack Darnell, Mark Ruiz, Brooke Weigel, and three anonymous reviewers provided comments that significantly improved the manuscript. Support for Ogburn was provided by the US Department of Commerce, NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, under PL 88-309, Project 2-296-R, NOAA Living Marine Resources Cooperative Science Center NA05OAR4811017, and by a Smithsonian Institution Postdoctoral Fellowship.

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Correspondence to Matthew B. Ogburn.

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Communicated by Judith P. Grassle

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Ogburn, M.B., Habegger, L.C. Reproductive Status of Callinectes sapidus as an Indicator of Spawning Habitat in the South Atlantic Bight, USA. Estuaries and Coasts 38, 2059–2069 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12237-015-9962-2

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Keywords

  • Spawning stock
  • Callinectes sapidus
  • Habitat
  • Reproductive status
  • Stock assessment