Larval abundance of summer flounder (Paralichthys dentatus) as a measure of recruitment and stock status


Able, Kenneth W., Mark C. Sullivan, Jonathan A. Hare, Gretchen Bath-Martin, J. Christopher Taylor, and Roland Hagan
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Summer flounder (Paralichthys dentatus) is one of the most economically and ecologically important estuarine-dependent species in the northeastern United States. The status of the population is currently a topic of controversy. Our goal was to assess the potential of using larval abundance at ingress as another fishery independent measure of spawning stock biomass or recruitment. Weekly long-term ichthyoplankton time series were analyzed from Little Egg Inlet, New Jersey (1989–2006) and Beaufort Inlet, North Carolina (1986–2004). Mean size-at-ingress and stage were similar between sites, whereas timing of ingress and abundance at ingress were not similar. Ingress primarily occurred during the fall at Little Egg Inlet and the winter at Beaufort Inlet. These findings agree with those from earlier studies in which at least two stocks (one north and one south of Cape Hatteras) were identified with different spawning periods. Larval abundance at Little Egg Inlet has increased since the late 1990s and most individuals now enter the estuary earlier during the season of ingress. Abundance at Little Egg Inlet was correlated with an increase in spawning stock biomass, presumably because spawning by larger, more abundant fish during the late 1990s and early 2000s provided increased larval supply, at least in some years. Larval abundance at ingress at Beaufort Inlet was not correlated with spawning stock biomass or with larval abundance at ingress at Little Egg Inlet, further supporting the hypothesis of at least two stocks. Larval abundance at Little Egg Inlet could be used as a fishery-independent index of spawning stock size north of Cape Hatteras in future stock assessments. Larval occurrence at Beaufort Inlet may provide information on the abundance of the stock south of Cape Hatteras, but additional stock assessment work is required.