• Written by Lee Smee, Assistant Professor of Marine Science, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi

The Research Brief[1] is a short take about interesting academic work.

The big idea

Fishing has a strong impact on coastal marine food webs, but it’s a hard effect to measure. When Hurricane Harvey hit Texas in 2017, it temporarily halted fishing in one area of the Gulf Coast and set up a natural experiment for our team. We found that when the hurricane halted recreational fishing, populations of sport fish rebounded almost immediately, causing a cascade of effects throughout marine food webs in the area.

In August 2017, Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Aransas Bay, Texas[2]. The high winds and storm surge destroyed docks, piers and boats in addition to homes and businesses. With fishing infrastructure destroyed, fishing in this area declined significantly the following year[3].

The storm then moved north, dropping record setting rainfall[4] near Houston, Texas, in the Galveston Bay watershed. In both Aransas and Galveston bays, rainfall significantly reduced salinity and altered water quality. But, Galveston Bay was spared from the worst wind damage[5] and fishing continued as normal[6].

This set up a natural experiment: Fishing was reduced in one area – Aransas Bay – but not in another – Galveston Bay – allowing us to assess how the ecosystems recovered under high or low fishing pressure.

After the storm reduced fishing in Aransas Bay, populations of sport fish – many of which are top predators – boomed the next year and we saw a trophic cascade throughout the food web. With more predators around, populations of shrimp, crabs and smaller fish that sport fish commonly eat, all declined[7]. On oyster reefs, mud crabs that commonly eat small oysters were hard to find because of higher predation by fish.

Although Galveston Bay experienced similar rainfall and water conditions, very little fishing infrastructure was damaged, and fishing continued as normal after the storm passed. Sport fish populations remained steady, and we didn’t see any serious changes to the food webs[8] of Galveston Bay.

The hurricane, by curtailing fishing, showed just how much of an effect fishing has not only on the targeted species, but on entire food webs.

When hurricanes temporarily halt fishing, marine food webs recover quickly Harvey destroyed docks and boats and fishing infrastructure in Aransas Bay, but not Galveston Bay. U.S. Department of Defense via Wikipedia[9]

Why it matters

Researchers know that humans are important components of food webs, but measuring these effects is challenging. The hurricane occurred in the midst of ongoing studies on fish populations and afforded us a unique opportunity to measure its effects, including reduction of fishing.

In Texas, fish populations bounced back quickly after fishing activity ceased, suggesting that these fisheries are well managed and that fishing regulations are being followed. This is in stark contrast to many fish stocks that have been historically overfished, leading to collapse of coastal ecosystems[10]. The results highlight that science-based fishing regulations and conservation planning need to be maintained, as well as how important it is for fishermen to follow the rules.

An image of an uncovered oyster reef at low tide. Oyster reefs are important habitats for a variety of species in the Gulf of Mexico and the food webs found on these reefs changed dramatically after fishing was reduced. Dr. Lee Smee, CC BY-ND[11]

What still isn’t known

The oceans face many challenges from fishing, pollution and climate change[12]. Food webs are inherently complex and difficult to study – especially when the conditions that affect them are constantly changing – and there is a lot scientists don’t yet know about how they might change with so many variables in flux. Understanding these relationships is critical if conservationists want to better protect marine resources.

What’s next

Studies that examine how multiple factors affect individual species and the food webs they are a part of will improve conservation planning. We believe these studies should also investigate how changes to one species can affect not only other animals but plants and nonliving systems too. It is also important to study how these changes affect humans and vice versa.

Finding the right balance between the needs of people and the needs of healthy ecosystems is difficult but important work. Hurricane Harvey was destructive, but it gave us an opportunity to learn valuable information about these complicated systems.

[Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter[13].]

Authors: Lee Smee, Assistant Professor of Marine Science, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi

Read more

Metropolitan republishes selected articles from The Conversation USA with permission

Visit The Conversation to see more

Entertainment News

Musik Radio Promotions - Opening the World For Indie Artists Music

Industry without inspiration never leaves a lasting impact. Hard work and discipline often produce a reliable product but, without the spark of love behind its creation, posterity will take a dim view of its ultimate worth. Ten years ago, worldwi...

News Company - avatar News Company

The Musical Journey of Lamont Dozier, Jr.

I was quite young when music entered my life. Music always had a role in my household, being that my mother, Elizabeth Ann Dozier, was a musician and the choir director for the church that I and my sisters grew up in. My mother also taught clas...

Lamont Dozier, Jr. - avatar Lamont Dozier, Jr.

Actor Thorn Castillo is the “New Face of Schick”

Last year, just after my acting and modeling career had started taking off, I heard some interesting advice from Robert Downey Jr. during an interview on Sam Jones’ series “Off Camera.” Talking about his own early experiences, he said something l...

Thorn Castillo - avatar Thorn Castillo

SHERYL LEE RALPH 2020 Creative and Political Projects

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on our day to day lives – but Tony nominated and Spirit Award winning actress/activist Sheryl Lee Ralph is booked and busy with her ongoing slate of dynamic TV, literary, political and entrepreneurial projects, revealin...

News Company - avatar News Company


Greye’s explosive new single “So Far So Good” is the perfect intro to the band’s new, harder-edged direction, an amped up way to experience all the dynamic elements Greye is known for.This explosive new single “So Far So Good” is the perfect intr...

News Company - avatar News Company


GLORIA LORING The Best of Me   There is something beautiful about artists whose insight into the human condition allows them to create works that, even beyond their original intention, emotionally and intuitively meet the moment and help us ...

News Company - avatar News Company

Metropolitan Business News


In 2019, just as his multi-faceted career was taking off, Thorn Castillo heard Robert Downey Jr. offer a sage bit of advice during an interview on photographer/director Sam Jones’ acclaimed multi-...

News Company - avatar News Company

New Research Highlights Opportunities for Sports Betting

Revenue Stream for Sports’ Post-COVID-19 Recovery Strategies New Rochelle, NY, June 1, 2020— Twenty-four states have now legalized sports betting, with more states considering legalization la...

Len Stein - avatar Len Stein

How to make overseas transfers easier?

Mainstream banks can charge as much as $20 just to process a basic international money transfer. Fortunately, today people are not doomed to handling personal finances only through mainstream gl...

News Company - avatar News Company

The flourishing international market of fragrance and perfume

There is something special and unique about the art of fragrance. This is a big world and there are quite literally a lot of smells around at any given time. In fact, as one of the five human senses i...

News Company - avatar News Company

Impact of good marketing on sales

Sales and marketing are brothers as they go hand and in hand. The job of both of these departments is to generate revenue so that an organization can make money. A company that does not generate rev...

News Company - avatar News Company

7 effective tips for increasing sales in retail

It seems that retailers have drawn a difficult lot in the 21st century: competition from online retail is growing steadily. After all, Internet retailers can sell your products at significantly lowe...

News Company - avatar News Company

Writers Wanted

News Company Media Core

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion