Quantifying overlap between the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and predicted bluefin tuna spawning habitat in the Gulf of Mexico

Sci Rep. 2016 Sep 22;6:33824. doi: 10.1038/srep33824.


Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) are distributed throughout the North Atlantic and are both economically valuable and heavily exploited. The fishery is currently managed as two spawning populations, with the GOM population being severely depleted for over 20 years. In April-August of 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill released approximately 4 million barrels of oil into the GOM, with severe ecosystem and economic impacts. Acute oil exposure results in mortality of bluefin eggs and larvae, while chronic effects on spawning adults are less well understood. Here we used 16 years of electronic tagging data for 66 bluefin tuna to identify spawning events, to quantify habitat preferences, and to predict habitat use and oil exposure within Gulf of Mexico spawning grounds. More than 54,000 km2 (5%) of predicted spawning habitat within the US EEZ was oiled during the week of peak oil dispersal, with potentially lethal effects on eggs and larvae. Although the oil spill overlapped with a relatively small portion of predicted spawning habitat, the cumulative impact from oil, ocean warming and bycatch mortality on GOM spawning grounds may result in significant effects for a population that shows little evidence of rebuilding.