Using Population Models to Evaluate Management Alternatives for Gulf Striped Bass
Type of DegreeMaster's Thesis
Fisheries and Allied Aquacultures
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Interstate management of Gulf Striped Bass Morone saxatilis has involved a thirty-year cooperative effort involving Federal and State agencies in Georgia, Florida and Alabama (Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint Gulf Striped Bass Technical Committee). The Committee has recently focused on developing an adaptive framework for conserving and restoring Gulf Striped Bass in the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee, and Flint River (ACF) system. To evaluate the consequences and tradeoffs among management activities, population models were used to inform management decisions. Stochastic matrix models were constructed with varying recruitment and stocking rates to simulate effects of management alternatives on Gulf Striped Bass population objectives. I used an age-classified matrix model that incorporated stock fecundity estimates and survival estimates to project population growth rate. In addition, I evaluated how combinations of management alternatives (harvest regulations, stocking rates, Hydrilla control) influenced population growth rate. Annual survival and mortality rates were estimated from catch-curve analysis and fecundity was estimated and predicted using a linear least squares regression analysis of fish length versus egg number from hatchery brood fish data. Stocking rates and stocked-fish survival rates were estimated from census data. Results indicated that management alternatives would be an effective approach to increasing the Gulf Striped Bass population. Population abundance was highest under maximum stocking effort, maximum Hydrilla control and a moratorium and lowest under no stocking, no Hydrilla control and the current harvest regulation. Stocking rates proved to be an effective management strategy; however, low survival estimates of stocked fish (1%) limited the potential for population growth. Hydrilla control increased the survival rate of stocked fish and provided higher estimates of population abundances than maximizing the stocking rate. A change in the current harvest regulation (50% harvest regulation) was not an effective alternative to increasing the Gulf Striped Bass population size. Applying a moratorium to the Gulf Striped Bass fishery increased survival rates from 50% to 74% and resulted in the largest population growth of the individual management alternatives. The results can be used to inform management decisions for other populations of Striped Bass in the Gulf Region.