Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Virginia Institute of Marine Science


Mark E. Chittenden, Jr


Otoliths, scales, dorsal spines, and pectoral fin rays, of Atlantic croaker, Micropogonias undulatus, were compared for legibility of presumed annuli and precision in repeated readings, to determine the best structure for ageing. Marks on transverse otolith sections were easiest to read and showed the best agreement between readings. Fish collected in Chesapeake Bay and in Virginia and North Carolina coastal waters during 1988-1991 were then aged using otolith sections. Ages 1-8 were recorded, but eight-year-old fish were rare. Marginal increment analysis showed that for ages 1-7 annuli are formed once a year during the period April-May. Otolith age readings were very precise, with percent agreement within and between readers greater than 99%. Observed lengths-at-age were highly variable and showed a rapid decrease in growth after the first year. Observed lengths for ages 1-7 showed a very good fit to the von Bertalanffy growth model (r&\sp2& = 0.99; n = 753). No differences were found between sexes. Total annual instantaneous mortality (Z) ranged from 0.55 to 0.63. Atlantic croaker are multiple spawners with indeterminate fecundity. Mean length at first maturity for males and females was 182 and 173 mm TL, respectively. More than 85% of both sexes were mature by the end of their first year and all were mature by age 2. Spawning extends over a protracted period (July-December), but individual fish spawns for only 2-3 months. Spawning starts in Chesapeake Bay and continues offshore and south as Atlantic croaker migrate from the estuary. Seasonal fluctuations in sex ratios suggest that males start leaving the estuary earlier than females. A high incidence of atretic advanced yolked oocytes in spawning females suggests that a surplus production of yolked oocytes is part of Atlantic croaker reproductive strategy. Yield-per-recruit modeling results indicated that, over a likely range on natural mortality values, present levels of harvest in Chesapeake Bay are below the maximum potential yield-per-recruit. Results from this study do not indicate the existence of a group of larger, older fish in the Chesapeake Bay region and suggest that the hypothesis of a different population dynamics pattern for Atlantic croaker north and south of North Carolina, should be reevaluated.



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