Reduced exploitation is associated with an altered sex ratio and larger length at maturity in southwest Pacific (east Australian) Pomatomus saltatrix
Pomatomus saltatrix is an important recreational fishing species with seven major populations worldwide. The reproductive biology of the southwest Pacific Ocean (east Australian) population is uncertain, with both an extended spawning and multiple spawning periods previously hypothesised. Here we demonstrate an altered sex ratio biased towards females and a larger length at 50% maturity (L) compared to those recorded for the population 40 years ago, before comprehensive management strategies were implemented. We also report a second, previously undescribed, late-summer spawning event which was identified by analysing patterns in a gonadosomatic index across the whole population and an historical larval fish database. P. saltatrix are capable of spawning multiple times per season with estimates of batch fecundity ranging from 99,488 to 1,424,425 eggs per fish. When combined with the length frequency distribution of the population, the majority of eggs (64%) were shown to be produced by fish ≤40 cm fork length (FL). L was estimated at 30.2 and 31.5 cm FL for male and female P. saltatrix respectively, 4 cm larger than 40 years ago. The sex ratio of the population was found to have significantly shifted over the last 40 years from an equal sex ratio to a female dominated population (1.58 females:1 male). These dramatic alterations to the sex ratio and L highlights the value of monitoring the reproductive biology of exploited fish populations to ensure that management plans remain appropriate.