Life history of morays (Anguilliformes: Muraenidae) off the southeastern Atlantic coast of the United States
Zokan, Marcus A.
Sedberry, George R.
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Morays (Anguilliformes: Muraenidae) are a large family of marine eels that are poorly known biologically. Twelve species are known to occur in the South Atlantic Bight (SAB), a region of continental shelf and upper slope extending from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, to Cape Canaveral, Florida. Specimens of nine species were obtained from fishery-dependent and fishery-independent sources during May 2005 through April 2007. The most abundant species, Gymnothorax moringa (n = 491), ranged in length from 556-1267 mm TL and age estimates ranged from 4-23 yr. Spawning females were collected from late May through February, with a peak in spawning between June and October. Spawning periodicity estimates ranged from 24-31 days, with nine to twelve spawning events during the spawning season. The second most abundant species, Muraena retifera (n = 53), ranged in size from 573-961 mm TL, with age estimates ranging between 6-24 yr. Spawning females were collected only in June and July. Basic biological information was collected from an additional 44 specimens of seven species. Spatial and temporal abundance of the four most abundant moray species was also examined using a long-term fishery-independent data series. Gymnothorax moringa, G. vicinus and M. retifera were most abundant on shelf-edge hardbottoms (44-110 m), whereas G. saxicola was most common on mid-shelf hardbottoms (18-43 m). The highest catches of morays were from hardbottom habitats off South Carolina and northeast Florida. Species richness was greatest off northeast Florida and on shelf-edge hardbottoms. The temporal abundance of moray species has changed considerably over a 23 yr period, with G. moringa increasing in abundance whereas M. retifera and G. saxicola have both declined in abundance. Distribution of all SAB moray species using fishery-dependent, fishery-independent, as well as museum collection records is presented including range extensions for Anarchias similis and Enchelycore anatina.