Salt Marsh Linkages to Productivity of Penaeid Shrimps and Blue Crabs in the Northern Gulf of Mexico




Zimmerman, Roger J., Thomas J. Minello and Lawrence P. Rozas

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Kluwer Academic Publishers


Secondary production derived from coastal marhes of the northern Gulf of Mexico exceeds that of other regions in the United States and is exemplified by large fishery catches of penaeid shrimps (Farfantepenaeus aztecus, F. duorarum, and Litopenaeus setiferus - 66 % of U.S.) and blue crabs (Callinectes sapidus - 25 % of U.S.). We believe that this production arises from coastal wetlands, and is driven by wetland geomorphology and hydrology resulting from the delta building and wetland loss cycles of the Mississippi River. Quantitative surveys document that high densities of shrimps and blue crabs directly use north Gulf marsh surfaces. Manipulative experiments demonstrate that such marshes provide these fishery species with increased resources for growth and with protective cover to reduce predator-related mortality. Thus, access to the marsh surface is an important component in controlling the link between secondary productivity and coastal wetlands. Marsh access is influenced by tidal flooding patterns, amount of marh/water edge, and extent of connections between marsh systems and the Gulf. Low-elevation Gulf marshes are flooded nearly continually during some seasons and are extensively fragmented; such characteristics provide maximum access. By contrast, U.S. Atlantic coast marshes have less fragmentation and less flooding. These geomorphic and hydrologic differences coincide with differences in secondary production, the current rapid loss of wetlands in the Gulf does not appear to causing a decline, but instead is associated with an increase in fishery productivity. This paradox may be explained by changes in access and habitat duction during areal loss of wetlands. Wetland loss is accompanied by increased marsh inundation and fragmentation, expansion of saline zones, and shortened migratory routes. These processes extend the utilization of remaining marsh and support temporary increases in secondary production.


23 pages