Severe decline in abundance of the red porgy (Pagrus pagrus) population off the southeastern United States


Vaughan, Douglas S., and Michael H. Prager
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Status of the southeastern U.S. stock of red porgy (Pagrus pagrus) was estimated from fishery-dependent and fishery-independent data, 1972–97. Annual population numbers and fishing mortality rates at age were estimated from virtual population analysis (VPA) calibrated with fishery-independent data. For the VPA, a primary matrix of catch at age was based on age-length keys from fishery-independent samples; an alternate matrix was based on fishery-dependent keys. Additional estimates of stock status were obtained from a surplus-production model, also calibrated with fishery-independent indices of abundance. Results describe a dramatic increase in exploitation of this stock and concomitant decline in abundance. Estimated fully recruited fishing mortality rate (F) from the primary catch matrix increased from 0.10/yr in 1975 to 0.88/yr in 1997, and estimated static spawning potential ratio (SPR) declined from about 67% to about 18%. Estimated recruitment to age 1 declined from a peak of 3.0 million fish in 1973–74 to 94,000 fish in 1997, a decline of 96.9%. Estimated spawning-stock biomass declined from a peak of 3530 t in 1979 to 397 t in 1997, a decline of 88.8%. Results from the alternate catch matrix were similar. Retrospective patterns in the VPA suggest that the future estimates of this population decline will be severe, but may be less than present estimates. Long-term and marked declines in recruitment, spawning stock, and catch per unit of effort (both fishery-derived and fishery-independent) are consistent with severe overexploitation during a period of reduced recruitment. Although F prior to 1995 has generally been estimated at or below the current management criterion for overfishing (F equivalent to SPR=35%), the recent spawning-stock biomass is well below the biomass that could support maximum sustainable yield. Significant reductions in fishing mortality will be needed for rebuilding the southeastern U.S. stock.