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Innovative Fish Ageing Methods for Rapid Detection of Climate-Driven Changes in Population Demography

Principal Investigators

Joseph Quattro, University of South Carolina Belle W. Baruch Institute for Marine and Coastal Sciences
Michelle Paserotti, University of South Carolina Department of Biological Sciences

Project Information

2018-2020 Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture

Project Number: R/CF-23

Research Description

Climate change presents dynamic challenges to the management of marine species. Fluctuating ocean temperatures and associated poleward thermocline shifts can alter phenology and habitat range, with potential for negative population-level effects, including those from new sources of fishing pressure. Given these concerns, the ability to quickly detect changes in age and growth trajectories of fish populations is of paramount importance to successfully managing them. The current ageing process is expensive, time-consuming, and lags real-time stock status by years, which hinders the ability of management to detect and respond to population dynamics in a timely fashion. Developing innovative technologies that rapidly estimate age in fish species is important to every stakeholder and end-user of fisheries resources, as it will improve the regulatory process and enhance management.

The overall goal of our project is to produce a proof-of-concept study to evaluate new, rapid age assessment methods for federally-managed fish species with the intended goal to substantially reduce the time and cost burden associated with the current stock assessment process. The following objectives are proposed to achieve this goal: (1) assess the accuracy of Near Infrared Spectroscopy (NIRS) as a secondary method of age estimation in fish based on comparison to validated annuli counts; (2) assess Aspartic Acid Racemization analysis as a primary method for predicting age in fish based on comparison to validated annuli counts; (3) determine whether Aspartic Acid Racemization is the mechanism underlying NIRS detection of age-related changes in ageing structures via comparison of predicted ages from each method; (4) develop rapid, inexpensive NIRS ageing methodology based upon above results that can be scaled up for application to other managed fish species, yielding new management behaviors and allowing more timely assessment of climate-related changes to growth and physiology of fish populations; (5) provide an efficiency assessment for use of NIRS to estimate age in teleost and shark species relative to time and cost of using traditional ageing techniques. Results of this project’s applied research will assist fishery managers in balancing needs of the resource with socioeconomic needs of SC communities through: 1) an improved process for determining life history inputs for fish species, 2) new technology to allow better monitoring of physiological changes resulting from changes in climate, and 3) development of innovative management tools to ensure long term sustainability of fish populations.

Contact for Questions

Dr. Joseph Quattro (