Master of Science (M.Sc.)
Virginia Institute of Marine Science
Establishing the relationships between recruitment indices and estimates of adult abundance using fishery-independent data continues to remain one of the principal challenges faced by fisheries scientists due to the lack of concurrent monitoring programs designed to target different life stages of the same species. In Chesapeake Bay, however, multiple, fishery-independent surveys currently monitor the relative abundance of YOY and adult fishes. Using the available data from these surveys, the relationships between estimates of relative abundance for young-of-year and adults of striped bass (Morone saxatilis), weakfish (Cynoscion regalis), and Atlantic croaker (Micropogonias undulatus) were examined. Year-class strength was reflected in subsequent estimates of age-specific adult abundance; however, the strength of the relationships varied greatly with age. For all three species, the initial lack of significant correlations across all age classes indicated the need for improving the recruitment indices to more appropriately reflect YOY abundance. To ensure that the recruitment indices reflect patterns in abundance of YOY fishes, the following information was examined: assignment of the index period and strata and the distributional assumptions of the YOY catch data. For striped bass, a Bay-wide recruitment index appears to more accurately reflect year-class strength than the individual VA and MD recruitment indices. The recruitment indices for weakfish and Atlantic croaker improved when changes were made to the index period; however, further investigation is necessary to determine how depth influences the distribution and, ultimately, abundance of these two species. Identifying the distribution of the YOY catch data from the VIMS juvenile finfish surveys is also critical for obtaining unbiased recruitment indices. Here, the striped bass and weakfish catch data were gamma distributed; whereas, the Atlantic croaker catch data were lognormally distributed. The application of the delta-lognormal distribution did not improve the recruitment indices for any of the species in this study.
An ageing study was conducted to determine if historically-defined length threshold values accurately distinguish YOY fish from older individuals in present day samples of striped bass, weakfish, and Atlantic croaker collected from the juvenile finfish surveys. The length threshold value for striped bass was determined to be approximately 30 mm too high. Although the current recruitment index for striped bass is not likely influenced by the small number of 1-year olds measured as YOY fish, reducing the length threshold value would ensure that only YOY fish are included in the calculation of the recruitment index. Further research is needed to determine if the length threshold values are appropriate for weakfish. For Atlantic croaker, length threshold values for the early portion of the index period (May, June) were appropriate; whereas, values used for the latter half of the index period (July, August) were too high, allowing for older individuals to be considered YOY based on their length. Consequently, the use of an earlier index period for Atlantic croaker would ensure that older fish are not being considered as YOY fish based upon their length.
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Woodward, Justine R., "Investigating the Relationships between Recruitment Indices and Estimates of Adult Abundance for Striped Bass, Weakfish, and Atlantic Croaker" (2009). Dissertations, Theses, and Masters Projects. William & Mary. Paper 1539617884.