Integrating methods for determining length-at-age to improve growth estimates for two large scombrids


Ballagh, Aaron C., David Welch, Ashley J. Williams, Amos Mapleston, Andrew Tobin, and Nicholas Marton
Cover date: 

Fish growth is commonly estimated from length-at-age data obtained from otoliths. There are several techniques for estimating length-at-age from otoliths including 1) direct observed counts of annual increments; 2) age adjustment based on a categorization of otolith margins; 3) age adjustment based on known periods of spawning and annuli formation; 4) back-calculation to all annuli, and 5) back-calculation to the last annulus only. In this study we compared growth estimates (von Bertalanffy growth functions) obtained from the above five methods for estimating length-at-age from otoliths for two large scombrids: narrow-barred Spanish mackerel (Scomberomorus commerson) and broad-barred king mackerel (Scomberomorus semifasciatus). Likelihood ratio tests revealed that the largest differences in growth occurred between the back-calculation methods and the observed and adjusted methods for both species of mackerel. The pattern, however, was more pronounced for S. commerson than for S. semifasciatus, because of the pronounced effect of gear selectivity demonstrated for S. commerson. We propose a method of substituting length-at-age data from observed or adjusted methods with back-calculated length-at-age data to provide more appropriate estimates of population growth than those obtained with the individual methods alone, particularly when faster growing young fish are disproportionately selected for. Substitution of observed or adjusted length-at-age data with back-calculated length-at-age data provided more realistic estimates of length for younger ages than observed or adjusted methods as well as more realistic estimates of mean maximum length than those derived from back-calculation methods alone.