Specimens of the four study species were collected during cruises to outer-continental shelf reefs of the northeastern Gulf of Mexico. Age was estimated for all serranid species using whole otoliths and C. enchrysurus ages were determined from transverse sections of sagittal otoliths. Ring structure observed on otoliths was validated as having an annual periodicity for P. martinicensis using marginal increment analysis. Ring structure on remaining species was assumed to correspond to age (years). Pronotogrammus martinicensis, H. vivanus, S. phoebe, and C. enchrysurus exhibited maximum ages of 9, 8, 5, and 11, respectively. Spatial variations in size-at-age were observed in P. martinicensis populations. Individuals inhabiting reefs in the Madison-Swanson Reserve area on the West Florida Shelf edge exhibited the fastest growth rates, while the slowest growing P. martinicensis were collected from the Alabama Alps Reef, the farthest west study reef.
Pronotogrammus martinicensis and H. vivanus are both protogynous hermaphrodites. Evidence of active spawning was observed in the months from February through July for P. martinicensis, and March and May for H. vivanus. Serranus phoebe was observed to be a simultaneous hermaphroditic capable of spawning year-round. Batch fecundity estimates for P. martinicensis ranged from 149-394 oocytes per fish.
Size selectivity was evident in our primary sampling method, hook and line using small tandem bait hooks. Smaller size-classes of all species examined were under-represented in our samples, hindering accurate growth modeling. Due to the protogynous nature of P. martinicensis and H. vivanus, hook and line sampling also tended to select for males. Future descriptions of the reproductive biology of both protogynous species would be more complete if less selective sampling methods could be successfully employed.
The data presented here contribute to a better assessment of the fish community of the northeastern Gulf of Mexico. Little information on age and reproduction was previously available for the serranid and pomacentrid species investigated in the present study. These species are important links between both planktonic or benthic food resources and economically-valuable groupers, snappers, and amberjacks. If a catastrophic natural or anthropogenic event occurred in these outer continental shelf reef habitats, the resultant loss of these forage species would immediately impact regional fish production via the food chain. This would be particularly true for reef-resident commercial and recreational fish species that depend extensively upon a diet of small forage fish species. Recovery to a stable community, fully repopulated with small forage fish species, would require at least a decade, possibly longer if the habitat had been substantially degraded during the initial disturbance.