Net remineralization rates of organic matter and bacterial growth rates were observed in dark-bottle incubation experiments conducted in July-August and February with water samples collected from sites in the Mississippi River plume of the Gulf of Mexico. Our objectives were to measure site-specific degradation rates of labile dissolved and particulate organic matter, quantify the potential importance of bacteria in these processes, and examine the kinetics of degradation over time. Unfiltered samples, and samples treated to remove (or dilute out) particles larger than bacteria, were enclosed in 9-1 bottles and incubated in the dark for 3-5 d. Respiration rates and inorganic compound accumulation rates were higher in summer than in winter and were highest in unfiltered surface samples at sites of intermediate salinities where phytoplankton were most abundant. The ratio of ammonium accumulation to oxygen removal in summer experiments suggested that the mineralized organic material resembled "Redfield" stoichiometry. Chemical fluxes were greater in bottles containing large (>1-3 μm) particles than in the bottles with these particles removed, but bacterial activities were generally similar in both treatments. These results suggest that particle consumers were an important component of total organic matter degradation. However, these experiments may have underestimated natural bacterial degradation rates because the absence of light could affect the production of labile organic substrates by phytoplankton. In agreement, with this hypothesis, bacterial growth rates tended to decrease over time in summer in surface plume waters where phytoplankton were abundant. In conjunction with other data, our results indicate that heterotrophic processes in the water column are spatially and temporally dependent on phytoplankton production.