Oyster reefs as fish habitat: Opportunistic use of restored reefs by transient fishes

Harding, J., M.; Mann, R.

Journal of Shellfish Research 20(3): 951-959

2001


ISSN/ISBN: 0730-8000
Accession: 011109038

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Abstract
Under the Magnuson-Stevenson Fisheries Management Act of 1996, current fisheries management practice is focused on the concept of Essential Fish Habitat (EFH). Application of the EFH concept to estuarine habitats relates directly to ongoing oyster reef restoration efforts. Oyster reef restoration typically creates complex habitat in regions where such habitat is limited or absent. While healthy oyster reefs provide structurally and ecologically complex habitat for many other species from all trophic levels including recreationally and commercially valuable transient finfishes, additional data is required to evaluate oyster reef habitats in the context of essential fish habitat. Patterns of transient fish species richness, abundance, and size-specific habitat use were examined along an estuarine habitat gradient from complex reef habitat through simple sand bottom in the Piankatank River, Virginia. There was no clear delineation of habitat use by transient fishes along this cline of estuarine habitat types (oyster reef to sand bar). Atlantic croaker (Micropogonias undulatus), Atlantic menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus), bluefish (Pomatomus saltatrix), silver perch (Bairdiella chrysoura), spot (Leiostomus xanthurus), spotted seatrout (Cynoscion regalis), striped bass (Morone saxatilis), and weakfish (Cynoscion nebulosus) were found in all habitat types examined. In general, the smallest fish were found on the sand bar, the site with the least habitat heterogeneity. As habitat complexity increased along the gradient from oyster shell bar through oyster reef, transient fish size and abundance increased. Opportunistic habitat use by this suite of generalists relates variations in habitat quality as related to habitat-specific productivity and suggests that oyster reefs may be important but not essential habitat for these fishes.