Demographics by depth: spatially explicit life-history dynamics of a protogynous reef fish


Collins, Angela B., and Richard S. McBride
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Distribution and demographics of the hogfish (Lachnolaimus maximus) were investigated by using a combined approach of in situ observations and life history analyses. Presence, density, size, age, and size and age at sex change all varied with depth in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Hogfish (64–774 mm fork length and 0–19 years old) were observed year-round and were most common over complex, natural hard bottom habitat. As depth increased, the presence and density of hogfish decreased, but mean size and age increased. Size at age was smaller nearshore (<30 m). Length and age at sex change of nearshore hogfish were half those of offshore hogfish and were coincident with the minimum legal size limit. Fishing pressure is presumably greater nearshore and presents a confounding source of increased mortality; however, a strong red tide occurred the year before this study began and likely also affected nearshore demographics. Nevertheless, these data indicate ontogenetic migration and escapement of fast-growing fish to offshore habitat, both of which should reduce the likelihood of fishing- induced evolution. Data regarding the hogfish fishery are limited and regionally dependent, which has confounded previous stock assessments; however, the spatially explicit vital rates reported herein can be applied to future monitoring efforts.