Greater Amberjack Spawning Site Selection and Connectivity


SeaKeepers' Vessel DISCOVERY
Upper Keys, Florida
April 21, 2024

Program Overview

The MERR lab studies how movement ecology impacts reproductive resilience in marine fishes. This project is studying the movement ecology and spawning site selection of Greater Amberjack (GAJ) in the Florida Keys. The seamounts off the Florida Keys are the best-known spawning site for Greater Amberjack in the Southeast US. Researchers are studying the movement patterns of fish that spawn at these sites, with the objectives of determining if there are resident and migratory contingents that spawn here, the catchment area from which spawners are drawn from, and site fidelity at this natural habitat versus at artificial reefs.


Location of Greater Amberjack spawning aggregations affects offspring survival and can be impacted by high depredation and discard mortality. To address these knowledge gaps and better understand why the Gulf of Mexico stock has failed to rebuild according to rebuilding timelines established in the Fishery Management Plan, researchers are studying spawning site selection of Greater Amberjack in the Upper Keys and in the Gulf of Mexico off Charlotte Harbor and Tampa Bay.

Expedition Summary

On April 21, 2024, The International SeaKeepers Society assisted researchers from the Movement Ecology and Reproductive Resilience (MERR) Laboratory at FWRI headquarters in St Peterburg, Florida during their annual trip to the Florida Keys to retrieve, download, and redeploy underwater acoustic monitoring systems tracking tagged Greater Amberjack. These trips typically involve 3-5 days of diving and deploying gear from a MERR lab vessel. The trip this April presented a challenge when one of the MERR outboards broke down on the first day. A number of amazing colleagues came to the rescue, providing vessels and staff to ensure the field work could continue, taking advantage of a rare weather window. Over the course of the trip, all 21 receiver sites were successfully serviced either by divers or acoustic release systems at the deeper sites. Additionally, five more Greater Amberjack were acoustically implanted with tags to join the 25 tagged a year ago at these same sites (9 of which were double tagged with satellite tracking tags). By the last day, one final site, far from all the others remained at an important wreck area off Big Pine Key where SeaKeepers’ vessel DISCOVERY served as a platform for the MERR lab to fully complete their mission.


Upper Keys, Florida

Duration of Project

Researchers first deployed acoustic receivers in the Florida Keys in 2015, as part of an iTAG proof of concept study to monitor movements of multiple species at this connectivity hot spot in collaboration with the Ocean Tracking Network and the FWRI Keys laboratory.

Research Team

  • Sue Lowerre-Barbieri (PI), Research Professor/Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences at the University of Florida, leading the Movement Ecology and Reproductive Resilience lab, which is a collaborative research team between FWRI and UF.
    Sarah Burnsed, Research Associate, Fish and Wildlife Research Institute
  • Kara Wall
  • Joel Bickford
  • Hayden Menendez
  • Alex Famigletti
  • Kamy Herbison
  • Captain Aubri Keith


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