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Florida Pompano Current Research

The Florida pompano (Trachinotus carolinus), a member of the jack family, supports an important commercial and recreational fishery in the state of Florida. Pompano occur in warm, coastal waters from Massachusetts to Venezuela and can be caught throughout Florida. Juveniles (10 mm-150 mm Fork Length [FL]) reside in the surf-zone community along exposed, sandy beaches. Adults are also found along exposed, sandy beaches; near inlets; and in bays and estuaries, such as Tampa Bay, where anglers can encounter them year round. Pompano like to feed on coquina clams, mole crabs, and other invertebrates. These fish can often be spotted as they come flying out of the water and "skip" across the surface. Pompano have silver bodies, greenish to gray backs, and a hint of yellow on their chins, stomachs, and fins. They are often confused with small permit (Trachinotus falcatus), but the record pompano is barely over 8 pounds, while permit can weigh more than 40 pounds

Florida pompano grow rapidly; up to 12 inches (300 mm FL) of growth within their first year of life is common. Scientists at the Florida Marine Research Institute (FMRI)* were the first to age wild Florida pompano using sectioned otoliths, or ear stones. Researchers determined that pompano ages ranged from 0 to 7 years on the Atlantic coast and 0 to 5 years on the gulf coast of Florida. Florida pompano can be reproductively mature at an early age. Approximately 50% of the females reach maturity at age 1 (300 mm-325 mm FL), and 100% maturity occurs by age 3 (375 mm-400 mm FL). Pompano appear to spawn offshore over an extended period of time. Peak spawning occurs during the spring and early summer.

Recreational anglers actively seek pompano because of the species' fighting ability on light tackle and because of their excellent food quality. In Florida, at least 10,000 lbs of pompano per county are caught annually in all coastal counties. Currently, there is a 6-fish aggregate bag limit per person per day for pompano and permit (T. falcatus). The size of fish in the aggregate bag must be greater than 11 inches fork length, and only one fish may be larger than 20 inches.

Pompano are also highly valued by the commercial fishing industry because the fish have high dockside value (>$3.50 a pound). Since the 1995 enactment of the ban on entangling gear used by the commercial fishery, commercial landings of pompano on the gulf coast of Florida have actually increased. Commercial harvesters have discovered there is a viable fishery offshore in federal waters (3 miles east coast, 9 miles gulf coast). Those targeting pompano are traveling further to use gill nets in federal waters.

The most recent assessment of Florida pompano stocks in Florida waters, completed in 2002, suggested this was species was experiencing overfishing. Biologists at FMRI are in the process of re-examining the age, growth, and reproductive biology of Florida pompano. During 2001-2002, researchers employed their own staff, gear, and time to independently sample and assess the age, growth, and reproduction of Florida pompano (Trachinotus carolinus) from Tampa Bay and adjacent gulf waters.

Scientists performed a preliminary study to determine a more precise and accurate method of aging Florida pompano using sectioned otoliths. They used three methods: 1. Embedding the otoliths in a resin that may enhance the contrast between summer and winter growth zones. 2. Staining the otoliths 3. Baking the otoliths-a modification to the traditional break-and-burn technique.

Researchers determined that the most precise and accurate method of aging Florida pompano is their new staining technique. This technique greatly enhanced the contrast between growth rings on the otolith. The staining technique was used for processing all pompano in order to update the species' age and length information and re-evaluate estimates of growth and mortality.

Biologists sampled the population weekly, based on the lunar calendar (every quarter moon), predominantly using 200 m-300 m trammel nets and supplemental gillnet and hook-and-line trips. Trips were made in the early morning and evening or nighttime to ensure that dawn and dusk were sampled. Researchers collected data from 1,704 pompano: 750 males, 861 females, and 93 unknown or immature. The fork lengths of these fish ranged from 79 mm to 481 mm FL, with a modal length of 290 mm. Ages of these fish ranged from 0 to 6 years; 6 years is a new maximum age for gulf coast pompano. Preliminary size-at-age comparisons showed that the oldest pompano (ages 5 and 6) were males, whereas the largest pompano in length and weight were females. No difference in the length-weight relationship was observed between sexes in the fishery-independent samples.

In addition, scientists gathered information on maturation schedules for males and females, on when and where pompano spawn, and attempted to determine batch-fecundity estimates (how many eggs pompano produce). While researchers collected mature females in every month of the year except November, most of these actively maturing fish were collected between February and July. Pompano ovaries from fish collected in final oocyte (egg cell) maturation (meaning spawning is imminent within 24 hours) were collected during April, May, July, and September at various times of day ranging from 08:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and near the beaches and passes. Too few fish were collected in a hydrated state (oocytes full of water immediately before spawning event) to be able to accurately estimate batch fecundity. FMRI data suggest that that spawning may take place nearly year-round, and spawning habitat may be more inshore than previously suggested.

Scientists are currently working on manuscripts to publish these research results. View the most current fishing regulations for pompano and other species.


* Prior to July 1, 2004, the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) was known as the Florida Marine Research Institute. The institute name has not been changed in historical articles and articles that directly reference work done by the Florida Marine Research Institute.