Distribution, condition, and growth of newly settled southern flounder (Paralichthys lethostigma) in the Galveston Bay Estuary, Texas
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Several flatfish species, including southern flounder (Paralichthys lethostigma) recruit to estuaries during early life. Therefore, evaluation of estuarine sites and habitats that serve as nurseries is critical to conservation and management. The present study used density data in conjunction with biochemical condition and growth measurements to evaluate settlement sites used by southern flounder in the Galveston Bay Estuary (GBE). In 2005, beam-trawl collections were made in three major sections of the GBE (East Bay, Galveston Bay, West Bay). Three sites were sampled in each bay. Within each sampling site, replicate collections were taken from three habitats: 1) marsh edge (< 1 m depth), 2) intermediate zone (10-20 m from marsh interface; 1 m depth), and 3) bay zone (typically > 100 m from marsh interface; depth > 1 m). Average size of southern flounder collected was 12-19 mm standard length, and peak densities occurred in January and February. Catch data indicated that densities of southern flounder were significantly greater in East Bay (2.75 per 100 m2) than in Galveston Bay (0.91 per 100 m2) or in West Bay (0.45 per 100 m2). Densities were statistically similar among habitats. Otolith-based estimates of age indicated that the majority of southern flounder collected were 35-45 days old and derived from early December to early January hatch-dates. Growth rates were similar among bays and among habitats, with the average growth rate being 0.40 mm day- 1 (range: 0.21-0.76 mm day- 1). RNA:DNA was above the established baseline value for nutritional stress, indicating that newly settled southern flounder in the GBE were in relatively high condition. Habitat-specific differences in RNA:DNA ratios were not observed; however, ratios were significantly lower in West Bay (average 8.0) than in East Bay (average 9.5) or in Galveston Bay (average 9.8), suggesting the condition of new recruits may vary spatially within the GBE. Findings from the current study suggest density and condition of newly settled southern flounder vary at the bay scale, suggesting that parts of GBE do not function equally as nurseries.