U.S. Caribbean Hogfish Lachnolaimus Maximus Conservation and Management: Filling Critical Life History Gaps

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Drake, Delaney M
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Hogfish is an important food fish for local Caribbean communities, so managing stocks in such a way that people can continue to utilize this species for food and economic stability is critical. Ecologically, hogfish enhance the biodiversity of reefs and contribute to top-down control of macroalgae on vulnerable coral reef ecosystems. This study collected fishery-dependent specimens from 2015–2020 in order to characterize size, age, and sex structure of the hogfish population in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and describe the reproductive biology of U.S. Caribbean hogfish including size and age at maturity and transition, spawning seasonality, and spawning frequency. Results from the present study provide key life history information for an exploited population of hogfish. This study is the first to comprehensively describe age, growth, and reproductive biology for hogfish in the U.S. Caribbean and the first to utilize the 14C chronometer to directly validate the accuracy of ageing hogfish by counting opaque zones on sagittal otolith sections. Fisheries-dependent samples provided insights into the fished population. Our study supports previous research documenting hogfish is a monandric protogynous hermaphrodite species, is characterized by a low male to female sex ratio, is moderately long-lived with a maximum age of 20+ years, and sexually matures within the first few years of life. Hogfish females appear to have a protracted spawning season encompassing at least 11 months of the year. Future life history research on U.S. Caribbean hogfish should target fishery-independent samples caught with a variety of gear types to better understand the population as a whole. Going forward, continued monitoring of hogfish life history parameters in this region is essential.