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Water control structures (WCSs) restrict hydrological connectivity in salt marshes and thereby impede nekton movement within the greater habitat mosaic. Transient fishery species, which spawn outside salt marshes and must get past these barriers to reach spawning areas or salt-marsh nurseries, are especially vulnerable to these structures. Water control structures incorporating slots (narrow vertical openings spanning most of the water column) are thought to improve nekton passage; however, few studies have directly examined nekton passage through WCS slots. Dual-frequency identification sonar (DIDSON) acoustic imaging was used monthly (April-September 2010) on diurnal flood tides to examine nekton movement through 15-cm-wide slots at two identical WCSs located in Louisiana tidal marsh channels. Nekton behavior was compared between these WCSs and a nearby natural salt-marsh creek. Examination of 12 h of subsampled acoustic data revealed large concentrations of salt-marsh nekton at the WCSs (n = 2,970 individuals total), but passage rates through the slots were low (<= 10% of total observed individuals migrated via the slots). Most migrating fish were observed leaving the managed area and swimming against a flood tide. The mean size of migrating individuals (similar to 25 cm TL) did not differ in relation to swimming direction (going into versus exiting the managed marsh) and was similar to that reported from other studies examining similar slot widths. Nekton formed congregations in the WCS channel, but no congregations were observed in the natural salt-marsh creek, even though nekton species composition and sizes were similar among sites. The WCSs in our study appear to function as ecological hot spots, where large individuals may encounter enhanced foraging opportunities but also fishing mortality and where smaller individuals may experience greater predation rates.


Originally published in Marine and Coastal Fisheries.

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