Regional variation in mercury and stable isotopes of red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) in the northern gulf of Mexico, USA



The presence of total mercury (Hg) in fish tissue and the potential associated health risks has become a global concern in marine ecosystems. Few studies have examined basin-scale variation in Hg accumulation in marine ecosystems, and determining if Hg concentrations in fish tissue vary across marine ecosystems is a key monitoring question. The present study evaluated Hg concentrations in red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) tissue across three regions of the northern Gulf of Mexico (Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas, USA) and between two habitat types (oil and gas platforms and nonplatforms) within each region. Nitrogen (δ15N), carbon (δ13C), and sulfur (δ34S) stable isotopes were used to investigate ecological differences that may affect Hg concentrations among regions and between habitats. Mercury concentrations in red snapper tissue were positively correlated with fish total length. Regional differences in Hg concentrations were significant, with fish collected from Alabama having the highest concentrations and fish collected from Louisiana having the lowest. No significant difference existed in Hg concentrations between habitats, suggesting that association with platforms may not be a significant factor contributing to red snapper Hg concentrations. While δ15N did not differ significantly among the three regions, Texas red snapper were more enriched in δ34S and depleted in δ13C compared with Alabama and Louisiana red snapper. Although the majority of red snapper collected in the present study had Hg concentrations below safe consumption guidelines, regional differences suggest that spatially explicit monitoring programs may be important for basin-wide assessments. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 2013;32:434–441. © 2012 SETAC