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Age determination, bomb-radiocarbon validation and growth of Atlantic halibut (Hippoglossus hippoglossus) from the Northwest Atlantic

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Abstract

Atlantic halibut (Hippoglossus hippoglossus) is the largest and one of the most widely-ranging and commercially-valuable groundfish in the Atlantic Ocean. Although presumed to be long-lived, their age and growth has not been validated. Ages were estimated by counting growth increments from approximately 2400 thin-sectioned sagittal otoliths collected from the Scotian Shelf and southern Grand Banks off eastern Canada. The accuracy of age estimates made from otolith thin sections was validated using bomb-radiocarbon assays of 13 otolith cores whose year of formation ranged from 1949 to 1975, encompassing the timeframe of the global radiocarbon pulse. Known-age juvenile halibut from a culture facility were used to identify the approximate location of the first annulus. Growth rate for males and females was similar up to about 70 cm (~5 years), after which point male growth slowed, while female growth continued to an age of up to 38 years and a maximum observed size of 232 cm. Males grew to an observed maximum length of about 175 cm and a maximum age of 50 years. A comparison of age estimates for otoliths collected in a ‘historic’ time frame (1963 to 1974) with those from recent years (1997 to 2007) shows that growth rate has not changed appreciably between the two time periods. Small but significant growth differences were observed between the Scotian Shelf and southern Grand Banks for both sexes, while large differences in length at age were observed between halibut caught with longline compared to otter trawl due to differences in length-based gear selectivity. Age interpretations based on sectioned otoliths tended to be 10–15% different than those based on break and burn, although the age comparison was confounded by other variables and must be considered provisional. Atlantic halibut is a long-lived fish, living up to at least 50 years, an important consideration for the management of the fishery.

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Acknowledgements

This research was jointly funded by the Atlantic Halibut Council and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. In-kind support was provided by the Shelburne County Quota Group and the Eastern Shore Protective Fishermen’s Association. We thank Javitech observers for their efforts in collecting >65 000 otoliths and Tania Davignon-Burton for ageing >2400 of them. We gratefully acknowledge the technical support of Jenna Denyes, Gerry Young, Jill Moore, Kurtis Trzcinski, Peter Comeau, Mark Fowler, Victoria Burdett-Coutts and Colín Minto. Juvenile cultured halibut were donated by Peter Corey of Scotian Halibut. We thank three anonymous reviewers for their very constructive comments on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Shelley L. Armsworthy.

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Armsworthy, S.L., Campana, S.E. Age determination, bomb-radiocarbon validation and growth of Atlantic halibut (Hippoglossus hippoglossus) from the Northwest Atlantic. Environ Biol Fish 89, 279–295 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10641-010-9696-8

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