Influence of environmental conditions on the age, hatch dates, and growth of juvenile Atlantic menhaden in the Choptank River, MD

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Since 1993 Atlantic menhaden has experienced sustained low juvenile production (recruitment) in the Chesapeake Bay. Factors controlling growth, abundance, and mortality of larval and juvenile menhaden change throughout ontogeny such that larval growth rates could carry over to juvenile growth and survival. The effects of winter thermal conditions on the hatch dates and growth of larval and juvenile Atlantic menhaden in Atlantic shelf and Chesapeake Bay habitats were examined using otolith (ear-stone) increment analyses and growth models. For 2010-2013, truncated hatch-date distributions provided evidence for a winter recruitment bottleneck in Atlantic menhaden caused by cold temperatures. Hatch-dates of surviving juveniles were skewed towards warmer months for years characterized by colder temperatures. Reduced larval growth rates, influenced by reduced temperature and food availability, carried over to juvenile growth rates. A growing degree-day model performed well in simulating observed juvenile growth rates in the Choptank River tributary of Chesapeake Bay.