Using Ecosystem Modeling to Determine Hypoxia Effects on Fish and Fisheries

  • Kim de MutsertEmail author
  • Jeroen Steenbeek
  • James H. Cowan
  • Villy Christensen


The effects of coastal hypoxia on fish biomass and fisheries landings in the northern Gulf of Mexico have been difficult to quantify. A main complicating factor is the fact that nutrient loading from freshwater discharge is not only the main contributor to the formation of the hypoxic zone, but also a driver of secondary productivity through bottom-up processes. Other complicating factors include food web interactions, movement of nekton to more suitable habitat, and temporal and spatial variability in hypoxic area. Through case studies using Ecopath with Ecosim and Ecospace, we show that ecosystem modeling can provide a tool to evaluate population-level effects on nekton biomass as well as changes in fisheries landings due to hypoxia. Fitting model simulations to time series (observations) in Ecosim reveals that including hypoxia improves the fit of the model to observations. These findings led to the development of a spatially and temporally dynamic Ecospace model, coupled to a physical-biological model with high skill in replicating dissolved oxygen and Chl a levels. The results of simulations with this coupled modeling approach suggest that, for most species, the positive effects of increased phytoplankton as a result of nutrient enrichment from the Mississippi River outweigh the negative effect of bottom hypoxia. Decoupling enrichment from hypoxia also showed that hypoxia does reduce biomass and landing as compared to enrichment alone, and that there are winners and losers: Some species such as red snapper decrease in biomass even with enrichment. Future directions include simulating nutrient reduction scenarios to inform management.


Hypoxia Fisheries Ecospace Ecosystem modeling Ecopath with Ecosim Food webs Gulf of Mexico 



KdM would like to acknowledge Carl Walters and Joe Buszowski for their advice and technical assistance during model development, Katja Fennel for providing output from her coupled physical-biological model, and Arnaud Laurent for preparing this output for use in the Ecospace model. We also like to thank two anonymous reviewers and the editors who improved the chapter with their thoughtful comments. This work was supported by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Award NA09NOS4780233.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kim de Mutsert
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jeroen Steenbeek
    • 2
  • James H. Cowan
    • 3
  • Villy Christensen
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Environmental Science and PolicyGeorge Mason UniversityFairfaxUSA
  2. 2.Ecopath International InitiativeBarcelonaSpain
  3. 3.Department of OceanographyLouisiana State UniversityBaton RougeUSA
  4. 4.Institute for the Oceans and FisheriesUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

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