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  • Fishery management production models tend to stress only the elements directly linked to fish (i.e. fish, fish food, and fish predators). Large coastal jellyfish are major consumers of plankton in heavily fished ecosystems; yet, they are frequently not included as model components. We explore the relationship between gulf menhaden (Brevoortia patronus) and the large scyphozoan jellyfish (Aurelia spp. and Chrysaora sp.), and provide an examination of trophic energy transfer pathways to higher trophic levels in the northern Gulf of Mexico. A trophic network model developed within the ECOPATH framework was transformed to an end-to-end model to map foodweb energy flows. Relative changes in functional group productivity to varying gulf menhaden consumption rates, jellyfish consumption rates, and forage fish (i.e. gulf menhaden, anchovies, and herrings) harvest rates were evaluated within a suite of static, alternative energy-demand scenarios using ECOTRAN techniques. Scenario analyses revealed forage fish harvest enhanced jellyfish productivity, which, in turn, depressed menhaden productivity. Modelled increases in forage fish harvest caused pronounced changes in ecosystem structure, affecting jellyfish, marine birds, piscivorous fish, and apex predators. Menhaden were found to be a more efficient and important energy transfer pathway to higher trophic levels compared with jellyfish. A simulated increase in jellyfish abundance caused the relative production of all model groups to decline. These outcomes suggest that jellyfish blooms and forage fish harvest have demonstrable effects on the structure of the northern Gulf of Mexico ecosystem.
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