Use of a natural isotopic signature in otoliths to evaluate scale-based age determination for American shad

  • Upton S
  • Walther B
  • Thorrold S
 et al. 
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We used δ18O signatures in otoliths as a natural tag for hatch year to evaluate the scale-based age determination method used for adult American shad Alosa sapidissima in the York River, Virginia. Juveniles of the 2002 yearclass exhibited high δ18O values in otolith cores that identified adult members of the cohort as they returned to spawn. Recruitment of the 2002 cohort was monitored for three consecutive years, identifying age-4, age-5, and age-6 individuals of the York River stock. The scale-based age determination method was not suitable for aging age-4, age-5, or age-6 American shad in the York River. On average, 50% of the individuals from the 2002 year-class were aged incorrectly using the scale-based method. These results suggest that the standard age determination method used for American shad is not applicable to the York River stock. Scientists and managers should use caution when applying scale-based age estimates to stock assessments for American shad in the York River and throughout their range, as the applicability of the scale-based method likely varies for each stock. This study highlights a promising new direction for otolith geochemistry to provide cohort-specific markers, and it identifies several factors that should be considered when applying the technique in the future.

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