The ages of brook trout Salvelinus fontinalis are typically estimated using scales despite a lack of research documenting the effectiveness of this technique. The use of scales is often preferred because it is nonlethal and is believed to require less effort than alternative methods. To evaluate the relative effectiveness of different age estimation methodologies for brook trout, we measured the precision and processing times of scale, sagittal otolith, and pectoral fin ray age estimation techniques. Three independent readers, age bias plots, coefficients of variation (CV = 100 x SD/mean), and percent agreement (PA) were used to measure within-reader, among-structure bias and within-structure, among-reader precision. Bias was generally minimal; however, the age estimates derived from scales tended to be lower than those derived from otoliths within older (age > 2) cohorts. Otolith, fin ray, and scale age estimates were within 1 year of each other for 95% of the comparisons. The measures of precision for scales (CV = 6.59; PA = 82.30) and otoliths (CV = 7.45; PA = 81.48) suggest higher agreement between these structures than with fin rays (CV = 11.30; PA = 65.84). The mean per-sample processing times were lower for scale (13.88 min) and otolith techniques (12.23 min) than for fin ray techniques (22.68 min). The comparable processing times of scales and otoliths contradict popular belief and are probably a result of the high proportion of regenerated scales within samples and the ability to infer age from whole (as opposed to sectioned) otoliths. This research suggests that while scales produce age estimates rivaling those of otoliths for younger (age > 3) cohorts, they may be biased within older cohorts and therefore should be used with caution. ?? Copyright by the American Fisheries Society 2008.
Additional publication details
An evaluation of the precision of fin ray, otolith, and scale age determinations for brook trout