Recruitment of larval Atlantic menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus) to North Carolina and New Jersey estuaries: evidence for larval transport northward along the east coast of the United States


Warlen, Stanley M., Kenneth W. Able, and Elisabeth Laban
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Age, size, abundance, and birthdate distributions were compared for larval Atlantic menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus) collected weekly during their estuarine recruitment seasons in 1989–90, 1990–91, and 1992–93 in lower estuaries near Beaufort, North Carolina, and Tuckerton, New Jersey, to determine the source of these larvae. Larval recruitment in New Jersey extended for 9 months beginning in October but was discontinuous and was punctuated by periods of no catch that were associated with low water temperatures. In North Carolina, recruitment was continuous for 5–6 months beginning in November. Total yearly larval density in North Carolina was higher (15–39×) than in New Jersey for each of the 3 years. Larvae collected in North Carolina generally grew faster than larvae collected in New Jersey and were, on average, older and larger. Birthdate distributions (back-calculated from sagittal otolith ages) overlapped between sites and included many larvae that were spawned in winter. Early spawned (through October) larvae caught in the New Jersey estuary were probably spawned off New Jersey. Larvae spawned later (November–April) and collected in the same estuary were probably from south of Cape Hatteras because only there are winter water temperatures warm enough (≥16°C) to allow spawning and larval development. The percentage contribution of these late-spawned larvae from south of Cape Hatteras were an important, but variable fraction (10% in 1992–93 to 87% in 1989–90) of the total number of larvae recruited to this New Jersey estuary. Thus, this study provides evidence that some B. tyrannus spawned south of Cape Hatteras may reach New Jersey estuarine nurseries.