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Identification of the spatial scale at which marine communities are organized is critical to proper management, yet this is particularly difficult to determine for highly migratory species like sharks. We used shark catch data collected during 2006–09 from fishery- independent bottom-longline surveys, as well as biotic and abiotic explanatory data to identify the factors that affect the distribution of coastal sharks at 2 spatial scales in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Centered principal component analyses (PCAs) were used to visualize the patterns that characterize shark distributions at small (Alabama and Mississippi coast) and large (northern Gulf of Mexico) spatial scales. Environmental data on temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen (DO), depth, fish and crustacean biomass, and chlorophyll-a (chl-a) concentration were analyzed with normed PCAs at both spatial scales. The relationships between values of shark catch per unit of effort (CPUE) and environmental factors were then analyzed at each scale with co-inertia analysis (COIA). Results from COIA indicated that the degree of agreement between the structure of the environmental and shark data sets was relatively higher at the small spatial scale than at the large one. CPUE of Blacktip Shark (Carcharhinus limbatus) was related positively with crustacean biomass at both spatial scales. Similarly, CPUE of Atlantic Sharpnose Shark (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae) was related positively with chl-a concentration and negatively with DO at both spatial scales. Conversely, distribution of Blacknose Shark (C. acronotus) displayed a contrasting relationship with depth at the 2 scales considered. Our results indicate that the factors influencing the distribution of sharks in the northern Gulf of Mexico are species specific but generally transcend the spatial boundaries used in our analyses.

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Marine and Environmental Sciences


This article was published in the journal Fisheries Bulletin by the National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA.

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