Age, growth and reproduction of speckled hind, Epinephelus drummondhayi, off the Atlantic coast of the southeast United States
Ziskin, Gabriel Lee
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This study provides life history and population data for speckled hind off the Atlantic coast of the southeast United States. A total of 1,365 speckled hind were sampled utilizing fishery-dependent and -independent sampling. The age of individuals was estimated by counting increments on sectioned sagittal otoliths. Sex and reproductive state were assessed by histological analysis of sectioned gonads. Data from two periods during the study (1977-93 and 2004-07) were compared to assess the effectiveness of a regulation put in place in 1994 by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council. Speckled hind ranged in total length (TL) and age from 164 to 973 mm and 1 to 35 years. Marginal increment analysis indicated that annulus formation occurs between June and August. Mean TL, mean age and length at age of speckled hind have decreased since the 1977-1993 period. Von Bertalanffy growth parameters calculated for both periods indicated that the growth rate was slower during the 2004-07 period. Length and age at 50% maturity has increased since the 1977-93 period, but length and age at 50% transition has decreased. The male:female ratio in the speckled hind population from 1977-93 was 1:1.5 and from 2004-07 was 1:3.8. Spawning females were observed from May through October; however, none were sampled during the 2004-07 period. Catch curve analysis indicated that total mortality and fishing mortality have increased since 1977- 1993. The results of the present study indicate that speckled hind continue to be over-exploited, despite the 1994 regulation, and may not be reproductively resilient enough to recover from depressed population levels. A new management strategy is necessary to improve the status of the population.