An unprecedented bloom of the toxic dinoflagellate Gymnodinium breve in coastal waters of North Carolina occurred during year three (fall–winter 1987–1988) of an eight-year larval fish study. This event was the basis for examining the possible effects of red tide
on the estuarine recruitment of nine species of larval fishes. Densities of larvae for 1987–1988 were compared to their corresponding average densities for the two seasons prior to and five seasons after the red tide. Larval fish recruitment for most species over the entire 1987–1988
season was not unusually low, although two of nine species did exhibit their 8-yr minima during this time. Densities for 1987–1988 were compared with the densities averaged (by week) over the other 7 yrs and revealed three general patterns of response. Two species, Paralichthys albigutta
(gulf flounder) and Citharichthys spilopterus (bay whiff) had consistently low densities throughout their normal period of recruitment, suggesting that their estuarine recruitment may have been impacted by the effects of G. breve even after the bloom ended. In contrast, Micropogonias
undulatus (Atlantic croaker) and Lagodon rhomboides (pinfish) densities were generally normal, or above normal, both during the bloom and for the remainder of the larval recruitment season. Five other species (Brevoortia tyrannus, Atlantic menhaden; Paralichthys lethostigma,
southern flounder; Leiostomus xanthurus, spot; Mugil cephalus, striped mullet; Myrophis punctatus, speckled worm eel) had low densities during the bloom, but increased markedly later in the season. This pattern suggested these five species suffered immediate effects when
the red tide was extant, but had high recruitment success later in the season. In the first post-red tide year, six of the nine species had their highest mean catches over the first 14 wks of all 8 yrs and suggested a possible post-red tide beneficial effect on larval fish estuarine recruitment.
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