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Does otolith macrostructure record environmental or biological events? The case of black hake (Merluccius polli and Merluccius senegalensis)

Rey, Javier, Fernández-Peralta, Lourdes, Esteban, Alba, García-Cancela, Ramón, Salmerón, Francisca, Puerto, Miguel Ángel, Piñeiro, Carmen
Fisheries research 2012 v.113 no.1 pp. 159-172
Merluccius, age determination, autumn, continental shelf, death, hake, otoliths, surveys, Mauritania
Fish age determination using otoliths requires a prior understanding of growth mark deposition patterns (translucent rings, TR) as well as their connection with internal or external events experienced by the fish. This study analysed the macrostructural seasonal ring deposition pattern observed in transversal sections of black hake otoliths. A total of 793 black hake otoliths were collected in autumn and spring 2007 from research and commercial surveys carried out in continental and shelf waters off Mauritania. Most of the Merluccius polli otoliths presented narrow and wide translucent rings (NTR and WTR, respectively) regardless of fish size, whereas Merluccius senegalensis otoliths only showed NTR. This seemed to be a sign of ontogenetic discrepancy between the two black hake species, whose otoliths confirmed the existence of significant differences in their growth patterns. The frequency distributions of the number of TR counted along the ventral radius (VR) of the otolith from the nucleus (birth date) and from the ventral edge (death date) were analysed to ascertain whether a specific endogenous event (Hypothesis A) or a precise environmental event (Hypothesis B) could restrain growth leading to the formation of TR. The general TR frequency distribution pattern was somewhat similar for both hake species, which showed marked TR at comparable distances. Within each species, TR frequency distributions of their distances from the nucleus along the otolith VR were quite similar between sexes, seasons, and fish sizes. Our results support the idea of a coincident biological event, such as first maturity, slowing down the growth process and thus provoking the formation of TR in otoliths of both species. This study also experience difficulty using the complex and highly variable macrostructural pattern of black hake otoliths to establish age interpretation criteria for these two species.