Life history of South African snoek, Thyrsites atun (Pisces: Gempylidae): a pelagic predator of the Benguela ecosystem


Griffiths, Marc H.
Cover date: 

Snoek (Thyrsites atun) is a valuable commercial species and an important predator of small pelagic fishes in the Benguela ecosystem. The South African population attains 50% sexual maturity at a fork length of ca.73.0 cm (3 years). Spawning occurs offshore during winter−spring, along the shelf break (150–400 m) of the western Agulhas Bank and the South African west coast. Prevailing currents transport eggs and larvae to a primary nursery ground north of Cape Columbine and to a secondary nursery area to the east of Danger Point; both shallower than 150 m. Juveniles remain on the nursery grounds until maturity, growing to between 33 and 44 cm in the first year (3.25 cm/month). Onshore– offshore distribution (between 5- and 150-m isobaths) of juveniles is determined largely by prey availability and includes a seasonal inshore migration in autumn in response to clupeoid recruitment. Adults are found throughout the distribution range of the species, and although they move offshore to spawn—there is some southward dispersion as the spawning season progresses-longshore movement is apparently random and without a seasonal basis. Relative condition of both sexes declined dramatically with the onset of spawning. Mesenteric fat loss was, however, higher in females, despite a greater rate of prey consumption. Spatial differences in sex ratios and indices of prey consumption suggest that females on the west coast move inshore to feed between spawning events, but that those found farther south along the western Agulhas Bank remain on the spawning ground throughout the spawning season. This regional difference in female behavior is attributed to higher offshore abundance of clupeid prey on the western Agulhas Bank, as determined from both diet and rates of prey consumption.