Puzzling parrotfishes: Radiocarbon age validation and updated longevity estimates for western Atlantic species in support of sustainable fisheries management

TitlePuzzling parrotfishes: Radiocarbon age validation and updated longevity estimates for western Atlantic species in support of sustainable fisheries management
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2024
AuthorsHernandez, JMRivera, Shervette, VR
Date Published05/2024
KeywordsCaribbean, coral reefs, Eye lens, Fish biology, Fisheries, Marine fish, Otolith, Spawning

For management efforts to succeed in Caribbean fisheries, local fishers must support and be willing to comply with fishing regulations. This is more likely when fishers are included in a stock assessment process that utilizes robust scientific evidence, collected in collaboration with fishers, to evaluate the health of fish stocks. Caribbean parrotfishes are important contributors to coral reef ecosystem health while also contributing to local fisheries. Scientifically robust stock assessments require regional species-specific information on age-based key life history parameters, derived from fish age estimates. Evaluation of the accuracy of age estimation methods for fish species is a critical initial step in managing species for long-term sustainable harvest. The current study resulted from a collaborative research program between fish biologists and local fishers investigating age, growth, and reproductive biology of the seven parrotfish species landed in U.S. Caribbean fisheries; specifically, we validated age estimation for stoplight parrotfish Sparisoma viride and queen parrotfish Scarus vetula. This is the first study to directly validate age estimation for any parrotfish species through analysis of Δ14C from eye lens cores. Our age estimation validation results show that enumeration of opaque zones from thin sections of sagittal otoliths for a Sparisoma and a Scarus species provides accurate age estimates. The oldest stoplight parrotfish and queen parrotfish in the Δ14C age estimation validation series were 14 y and 16 y; while the oldest stoplight parrotfish and queen parrotfish we aged to-date using the Δ14C validated age estimation method were 20 y and 21 y, respectively. Fish longevity (maximum age attained/life span) is a key life history parameter used for estimation of natural mortality, survivorship, and lifetime reproductive output. Past reviews on parrotfishes from the Pacific and Atlantic concluded that most Caribbean/western Atlantic parrotfish species are relatively short-lived with estimated maximum ages ranging from 3–9 y. However, information from our collaborative research in the U.S. Caribbean combined with recently published age estimates for Brazilian parrotfish species indicate that many western Atlantic parrotfishes are relatively long-lived with several species attaining maximum ages in excess of 20 y.