MEPS 339:259-269 (2007)  -  doi:10.3354/meps339259

Overwintering ability of young-of-the-year bluefish Pomatomus saltatrix: effect of ration and cohort of origin on survival

Joshua J. Slater1, Thomas E. Lankford Jr.1,*, Jeffrey A. Buckel2

1Department of Biology & Marine Biology and Center for Marine Science, University of North Carolina Wilmington, 601 S. College Road, Wilmington, North Carolina 28403, USA
2Department of Zoology, Center for Marine Sciences and Technology, North Carolina State University, 303 College Circle, Morehead City, North Carolina 28557, USA
*Corresponding author. Email:

ABSTRACT: Bluefish Pomatomus saltatrix have experienced declines in recruitment and adult abundance along the US East Coast since the mid-1980s. At the onset of winter, young-of-the-year (YOY) bluefish exhibit a multimodal size distribution including larger, spring-spawned fish (spring cohort) and smaller, summer-spawned fish (summer cohort). Declines in the adult stock appear to coincide with declines in recruitment success of the summer cohort. We investigated the hypothesis that poor recruitment success of the summer cohort results from size-selective winter mortality. Winter mesocosm experiments were conducted to examine the effects of cohort of origin (spring vs. summer) and food availability (fed vs. unfed) on winter survival of YOY bluefish. Spring fish entered winter with significantly greater lipid reserves than summer fish. When fed, both cohorts stored lipids during late fall, depleted lipid reserves during winter, and experienced high overwinter survival. When starved, both cohorts mobilized lipids from multiple depots (liver, viscera, white muscle, red muscle, skin) and summer fish experienced starvation mortality ~6 wk prior to spring fish. Although summer fish were more susceptible to winter starvation than spring fish, their starvation endurance (>90% survival probability after 120 d) appeared more than adequate to survive natural winter conditions. Interestingly, spring fish suffered a brief mortality event during January when water temperatures dropped briefly below 6°C, suggesting that larger individuals are less tolerant of acute cold stress. The remarkable starvation endurance of summer-spawned bluefish, coupled with their capacity for rapid lipid storage during fall and reduced rates of lipid depletion at low temperatures, implies that members of this cohort are physiologically well-equipped to survive their first winter of life. Our findings are inconsistent with the hypothesis that winter starvation accounts for decreased recruitment of the summer cohort to the western Atlantic stock.

KEY WORDS: Winter mortality · Starvation endurance · Recruitment · Lipid dynamics · Cold tolerance

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