Age and Growth of Tub Gurnard
Chelidonichthys lucerna (Linnaeus, 1758)
during Estuarine Occupation of a Temperate Atlantic Nursery
J Campos1*, S Costa-Dias1,2, A Bio1, P T Santos3 and I Jorge4
1 CIIMAR – UP, Interdisciplinary Centre of Marine and Environmental Research of the University of Porto, Portugal
2 ICBAS – UP, Institute of Biomedical Sciences - University of Porto, Portugal
3 FCUP – UP, Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade do Porto, R. Campo Alegre, Portugal
4 IPMA, Instituto Português do Mar e da Atmosfera (former IPIMAR – CripCentro), Canal das Pirâmides, Portugal
Submission: October 08, 2021; Published: September 12, 2022
*Corresponding author: J Campos, CIIMAR – UP, Interdisciplinary Centre of Marine and Environmental Research of the University of Porto, Terminal de Cruzeiros do Porto de Leixões, Av. General Norton de Matos, 4450-208 Matosinhos, Portugal
How to cite this article: J Campos, S Costa-Dias, A Bio, P T Santos, I Jorge. Age and Growth of Tub Gurnard Chelidonichthys lucerna (Linnaeus, 1758)
02 during Estuarine Occupation of a Temperate Atlantic Nursery. Int J Environ Sci Nat Res. 2022; 31(1): 556304. DOI 10.19080/IJESNR.2022.31.556304
The tub gurnard Chelidonichthys lucerna is a by-catch species with an emerging economic importance, requiring information for a sustainable management. Modal progression analysis, otolith reading, length-at-age back-calculation and the von Bertalanffy model were used to trace growth patterns of C. lucerna in the Mondego estuary (Portugal) during an annual cycle. All sampled gurnards (480 individuals, 4.7-31.8cm total length, 0-5 years old) were immature and had a stable Fulton’s condition index (1.01±0.11), consistent with a nursery use of the area. Up to 5 false rings before the first winter ring appeared on 63% of the otoliths and were hypothesized to refer to ontogenic events and fluctuation in prey resources. Most juveniles entered the estuary in spring, when temperature and salinity increased, remained there for 1-2 years and migrated seawards in autumn/early winter. Older gurnards (2-5 years old) entered sporadically into Mondego, mainly in autumn and winter. During the estuarine period, length-weight relationship of the gurnards followed the equation W=0.0105*TL2.98 (r2=0.9935) and growth can be described according to the following von Bertalanffy equation:
This is the first comprehensive study developed in the Atlantic region focusing on population growth patterns of young tub gurnard during the period of estuarine occupation.
Keywords: Otoliths; Tub gurnard; Nursery; Atlantic region; Von Bertalanffy growth model
The tub gurnard Chelidonichthys lucerna is a marine fish species with a high nutritional value . Besides a by-catch species in demersal fisheries [2,3], it has an emerging commercial importance in Europe, mainly due to the decline in the stocks of the traditionally targeted species [4-6]. Tub gurnards co-occur with other Triglidae with commercial interest (e.g., grey gurnard Eutrigla gurnardus), both in the Atlantic  and in the Mediterranean , which are often landed together . Only 4 countries of the ICES area, however, sort gurnard landings by species at fish markets, which hinders any stock management [2,9]. Portuguese fisheries data confirm that the tub gurnard is the most valuable and frequent of the six Triglidae species landed in Portugal , and is the largest of them , though gurnards sorting at Portuguese Fish Auctions is mostly based on size, rather than on accurate species identification.
Recently, studies on otolith shape and elemental composition have revealed that tub gurnards from centre and north of Portugal belong to a single population unit that should not be managed separately . Otoliths are sound transducers and play an important role in fish hearing, which is particularly relevant for gurnards, as they produce different sounds, especially under
competitive feeding conditions [12,13]. The sagittal otoliths of
gurnards are relatively small , approximately oval or triangular
to oval . Since its shape is species-specific [16,17], variation
in otolith morphology has been used to discriminate phenotypic
markers between Triglidae species, including C. lucerna [18-21].
The ultrastructure and morphology of otoliths can even reveal
differences between C. lucerna juveniles and adults : as the
fish grow the otoliths show a relative elongation of the sulcus
acusticus, an increase of excisura ostii and in structure complexity,
while the fraction of organic matter decreases [18,21].
The most common utility of otoliths, however, is in fish age
determination, a very useful tool for fisheries management
[16,22]. The otolith’s biomineral formation is physiologically
controlled and affected by environmental conditions such as
temperature and prey availability [23,24]. A seasonal pattern is
evident and is closely related to the changes in prey abundance
and quality: an opaque ring is laid when food is abundant (spring
and summer), and a translucent ring is formed when food scarce
(autumn and winter) . This results in optically distinct zones
that can be related with the annual cycle of material deposition
and otolith growth. The analysis of the alternation of rings in the
macrostructure of otoliths is a reliable and routine method of
aging fish, whereby a consecutive pair of hyaline and opaque rings
is assumed to correspond to an annual cycle, i.e., one year of age
Most information on C. lucerna has been collected in the
Mediterranean Sea, where it also sustains an important fishery. In
relation to Atlantic populations, a few studies have described the
length-weight relationship for several Triglidae species, including
C. lucerna in Portuguese waters [25-27]. From the very few studies
on its growth, only one estimated the age from the fish scales ,
while most others have used the otoliths for ageing purposes.
Apart from the McCarthy & Marriott  research in UK coastal
waters, no detailed investigation has been conducted on the
population biology of tub gurnard in the European Atlantic coast since the work by Baron [29,30] in the North of France. It is then
evident, there is a lack of knowledge with respect to the Atlantic
region, despite its need for a successful fisheries management.
Namely, no information is available for the particularly sensitive
period of estuarine occupation during the first years of life. This
paper provides the first detailed study of the patterns of growth of
young tub gurnard through otolith analysis, for a population from
temperate estuarine waters of the Northeastern Atlantic coast.
Four methods modal progression analysis, marginal increment
analysis, the back-calculation method (for a review, see [31,32]),
along with the von Bertalanffy growth model, were used to
examine the growth over an annual cycle, and to compare with
the existing data for southerly Mediterranean and northerly UK
and French populations.
Fish were collected in two sandy sites of Mondego estuary:
near the commercial harbor in the North arm (NA), and in Gala
in the South arm (SA) of the river (Figure 1). The NA is deeper
because the area is frequently dredged for navigation and has a
larger influence of both saline intrusion from downstream, and
fresh water from upstream. In contrast, the SA is silted up, and
difficult to access by boat, has a larger marine influence and a
greater thermal and saline homogeneity. Nevertheless, their
environmental features are quite similar to the point of being
considered belonging to the same spatial unit . A total of nine
sampling campaigns were done between July 1999 and July 2000,
in each of the two first months of each season, covering the four
seasons. Sampling took place during low water of spring tides.
Each campaign consisted of three hauls with a 57m (3m high,
0.8cm mesh size) beach seine at the two sites; at the NA site, an
extra haul was conducted with a 5.1m bottom trawl (1.8cm mesh
size) during 2h only. Additionally, temperature and salinity were
determined with appropriate probes, and water transparency
was determined with a Secchi disc.
All animals were transported in cooling boxes and frozen in
the lab. After defrosting, the total length (TL) of all tub gurnards
was measured to the nearest mm. A length-stratified subsample
consisting of the first four fish in each 1cm size class were retained
for dissection. For this subsample, the wet weight (WW, g) and
the weight of the eviscerated fish (We, g) were also registered.
Whenever possible (presence of gonads), sex and maturity status
were confirmed macroscopically by visual inspection of the
gonads following . For each individual, the sagittal otoliths
were removed, cleaned and stored dried in paper envelopes for
later aging. Age determination was performed by counting the
number of rings (i.e., outer edges of the opaque zones) and analysis
of its margin (opaque versus hyaline) following  and . The
whole left otolith was observed under binocular stereoscope with
the convex side up and read under reflected light against a black
background, always at the same magnitude, and immersed in
70% alcohol. Photographs were taken with a JVC TK-C1380 digital
camera coupled to a Leica binocular stereoscope and digital
image analysis was performed with the software Leica Qwin
500. Each consecutive pair of opaque (dark) and hyaline (light)
rings together were considered as an annual growth increment
[29,36,37]. At least two readings were performed to each otolith
to confirm the age. The otoliths were rejected whenever the third
or fourth reading were not coincident. Age determination was
validated by the analysis of the otolith margin, confirming the ring
formation by the deposition of an opaque and the formation of a
hyaline area per year. The radius of the otolith was taken from the
distance between the nucleus and the rostrum extremity because
this presented a higher contrast between otolith rings, as also
observed by . The distance between otolith rings was also
measured in this same line.
Observations on TL and WW (and We) were used to establish
the length-weight relationships through regression, both for the
overall population and separately for each sex, using the allometric
growth equation W=aTLb [39,40], where W is the WW or the We,
and a and b are constants. The same data were used to calculate
the Fulton’s condition factor (K): K =100*WW / TL3.
The growth of the gurnards was studied through three models:
1) the modal class progression based on the analysis of the
temporal series of length distributions ; 2) back-calculation
through regression between the fish length and the otolith radius;
and 3) through the von Bertalanffy growth model [40,42]. This last
is considered statistically more robust and facilitates comparing
with other growth studies .
For the modal class progression, the size class histograms
were made globally and per season to determine the period
of entrance of juveniles into the estuary. ‘Recruitment’ was
considered to be the appearance of a new generation in the samples. The Bhattacharya method [41,43] was applied to the
histograms to discriminate among normal distributions. Each
mode was assumed to represent a cohort from the overall and
from the seasonal size–frequency distributions. The separation
index among different cohorts was estimated. Values less than
2 indicate a large overlap between cohorts and are considered
statistically similar . The same method was used to follow
the growth of each cohort throughout the study period, using the
software FISAT II . The histograms also allowed validating the
otolith readings and the back-calculated lengths-at-age, at least
for the first age classes.
After age determination, the animals were grouped into
age classes to build the length-at-age key. Back-calculation was
used to reconstruct data for growth analysis, as it allows for an
inference of the length of a fish at younger ages that may not
be represented in the sampling, thereby increasing the number
of length-at-age data to be used in fitting a growth model to the
data. A prerequisite for applying this technique is the existence of
a relationship between body length and otolith radius (OR) ,
which was first determined through linear regression.
Growth was described using the von Bertalanffy model
equation modified by  and ,
Lt is the length at age t, L∞ is the asymptotic length, k is the
growth constant per year, and t0 is the age that corresponds to
length zero. The von Bertalanffy growth model was fitted to four
sets of data using the software FISPARM : 1) the pairs age-TL
i.e., length-at-age observations; 2) the back-calculated lengthsat-
age with the different regression equations and respective
mean values; 3) the pairs age-mean length; and 4) modal total
lengths obtained through the Bhattacharya method. The growth
performance index (ϕ’, phiprime) was used to compare fish
growth, where φ’ = log10 K + 2*log10 L∞ . It was assumed
the first of January as the date of age transition for the following
age class (i.e., ‘birthday’) .
Figure 2 presents the temporal trends in abiotic conditions
from summer 1999 to summer 2000. Due to extensive dredging in
the area, the NA site was significantly deeper by about the double
of the depth of the SA site, all along the study period. Transparency
was also significantly higher in the NA (F=4.32, p=0.0026),
ranging from 0.70±0.35m in the autumn 1999 to 1.85±0.17m in the summer 2000, while transparency was quite stable in the
SA (mean 0.68±0.19m; F=1.14, p>0.05). The two sampling sites
did not differ in salinity but salinity in the NA varied over time
(F=25.69, p=0.0046), while in the SA seasonal differences were
not significant (F=2.80, p>0.05), though varying between 11.9±0.1
and 29.3±0.0. For the NA, salinity ranged between 7.6±6.7 in the
rainy spring 2000 and 27.2±4.0 in the dry summer 2000. Trends in temperature were also similar in the two sites (F=0.01, p>0.05)
with significant differences between the seasons (NA: F=127.74,
p<0.0001; SA: F=9.69, p=0.0037), following the expected
fluctuations: lower in winter (min: 10.9±0.6ºC and 10.0±1.6ºC,
respectively in the NA and in the SA) and higher in the summer
(max: 21.3±0.6ºC and 21.4±0.0ºC, respectively in the NA and in
A total of 480 gurnards (28.3Kg of biomass) were sampled
and measured. Despite 60% of the gurnards were caught in the
NA, considering only the catches with the beach seine used in both
sites, catches rendered about 5.5 times higher in the SA site, both
in number and in total biomass (192 gurnards, 11.7Kg in the SA
versus 35 gurnards, 2.1Kg in the NA). Altogether catches were
higher in the summer (177 ind, 11.6Kg) and autumn 1999 (99 ind,
10.3Kg), both in number and in biomass, and lower in the winter
2000 in number (46 ind), and in spring 2000 in biomass (1.5Kg)
The size of the gurnards ranged from 4.7 to 31.8cm TL.
More than half of the sampled gurnards were not sexed as they were sexually immature, and hence data was treated globally
considering them as juveniles or immature. Table 1 presents
the length-weight relationships. For all equations, the exponent
‘b’ was close to 3, typical of isometric growth in the dimensions
considered. The Fulton’s condition factor K was stable (i.e.,
standard deviation <15% of the mean) during the study period
with a mean of 1.01±0.11 (F=2.16, p>0.05).
In the overall sample, the most evident modal class was the
18.0cm with 45 gurnards. Four other less evident modal classes
could be depicted from the size distribution histogram (Figure
3): 5.0cm, 9.0cm, 23.0cm, and 26.0cm. Yet, the direct analysis of
the seasonal histograms did not allow a proper evaluation of the
gurnards’ growth due to the low numbers per size class. Moreover,no clear modal class was present in most seasons making it
difficult to detect the modal class progression. Nevertheless, in
autumn 1999, size range of the gurnards which appeared in the
estuary was larger than in summer 1999, though in much lower
numbers. In the winter, numbers continued decreasing but even
smaller gurnards entered the estuary. They continued entering in higher numbers in the spring 2000, when the modal class
appeared to drawback to the 5.0cm and 9.0cm size classes. The
modal class proceeded to 16.0cm in the next season (summer
2000). Yet, numbers were lower than the year before because only
one month was sampled instead of two.
The Bhattacharya method was applied to improve the group
discrimination. Modal classes, standard deviation and separation
index (SI) are presented in Table 2. These modal classes per
season enabled an approximate age to be attributed to the mean modal length (Table 3) which gives already a first approach to the
growth of C. lucerna in Mondego estuary. All SI but one were over
2 indicating a statistically-sound separation between the cohorts
A total of 327 pairs of otoliths were collected. The legibility
was 93.7% as 25 otoliths were rejected due to inconsistent
readings. For most of the otoliths, three to four readings were
necessary due to the presence of false rings.
Most otoliths presented a hyaline margin (always over 75%).
The percentage of otoliths with opaque margin was highest in
summer 1999 (30%) but higher in the winter 1999 (24%) than in
the following warmer seasons (17-20%) (X2 = 14.45, p<0.01). In
the majority of the otoliths, the nucleus was easilly distinguishable,
even with no manipulation of the image contrast. The nucleus was
located in the otolith center, in the confluence of the sulcus which
crosses the otolith. Most otoliths (251, 63% of total) presented false rings, but the distance to the nucleus was only possible to
measure in 138 of them (35% of total) due to the opacity of the
region. The first false ring appeared close to the nucleus between
215.32 and 621.05μm (mean 470.92±170.83μm) following the
Mean Radius of 1st false ring =1.4935*TL + 447 (r2 = 0.0082, N =138).
Other false rings (up to 5) were observed in the otoliths before
the first winter ring, but at lower frequencies: a second false ring
occurred in 49%, and a third false ring occurred in 13% of the otoliths. Their distance to the nucleus was not possible to measure
because they had no clear edges.
In contrast to the false rings, the ring corresponding to the first
winter was always easily distinguished as a hyaline band all around
the otolith, larger than any of the false rings. The distance to the
nucleus was 386.35 to 1272.71μm (mean = 1064.32±168.78μm).
The distance to the nucleus of the subsequent winter rings
increased with the increase in the number of rings and the
difference was significant (F=444.14, p<0.0001, Figure 4).
One year of age was attributed to each set of consecutive
winter and summer rings. The best represented age classes were
age classes 0 and 1, with the number of gurnards per age class
decreasing with increasing age with only a single 5 years-old
individual (Figure 4), i.e., the same number of age classes as the number of age groups determined by the Bhattacharya method
(Table 3). Mean size-at-age (Table 3) was significantly different
(F=338.23, p<0.0001) and slightly larger than the ones estimated
through the Bhattacharya method.
* In Spring 1999 and Summer 2000, data was not sufficient to estimate the modal TL, and hence the von Bertalanffy model was not
The equation describing the relationship between the fish
total length (TL, cm) and the otolith radius (OR, μm) was as
follows: TL = 0.0619*OR − 6.1201, R2 = 0.9275, N = 302
From this equation, the back-calculated mean lengths and
respective standard deviations were determined for each age
class (Table 3).
The outputs using the von Bertalanffy model for the present
study are shown in Table 5, along with similar information from
previous studies. Asymptotic length was maximum using backcalculated
set of data. Most of the values of the growth constant
were over 0.275, while t0 ranged from -1.883 to 1.079. All models
had ϕ’ value larger than 2.400, but the models obtained from the
observations and from the modal lengths had the higher scores of this index.
This work successfully investigated the growth of the tub
gurnard C. lucerna in the Mondego estuary. The tub gurnard was
present all year round within the estuary as juveniles or immature
animals, confirming the use of the area as a nursery ground.
The alternation of seasons, and hence of years, marked through
hyaline and opaque rings in the otoliths, enabled estimating the
fish age. It revealed that estuarine occupation occurred mainly
during the first 1-2 years of life. Occasionally older gurnards of
up to 5 years old also entered in the estuary. Up to 5 false rings
were marked in the otoliths before the first winter ring which
might be related with critical periods of the gurnards’ early life.
The present study further determined the von Bertalanffy growth parameters for C. lucerna from the Mondego population, which are
of upmost importance to develop stock management strategies
for sustainable fisheries.
The distribution of tub gurnards seems more closely related
with temperature than other abiotic factors such as depth . Yet,
a certain degree of spatial segregation exists between juveniles
and adults : larger and older adults are often found at depths
over 100m - up to 250m in Galician  and 320m in Greek waters
 -, while juveniles prevail at shallower coastal waters up to
20m, including within estuaries [4,20,52-60]. Young gurnards
use these shallow areas as nursery grounds, where they mainly
feed on the brown shrimp Crangon crangon . In Portugal,
the estuaries of the rivers Arade, Tagus and Mondego have been
identified as nurseries for the tub gurnard [33,53,60,62,63].
In the present work, the gurnards caught in the Mondego
estuary were all juveniles or immature, which is consistent with a
nursery role. The stability in their condition over the study period,
measured through the Fulton’s K, reflects the overall fitness of the
population, and is also consistent with a nursery use: on the one
hand, it probably derived from the fact that all gurnards were
immature, and hence the condition did not reflect the fluctuations
in the reproductive investment (i.e. gonads’ maturation); on the
other hand, a nursery ground is expected to provide plenty of
food, resulting in a healthy and stable condition.
Migration of young gurnards into the estuarine nursery was
reflected in spring catches in terms of number and size range,
though the total biomass did not reveal this entrance because the
fish were mainly small juveniles, and hence of low weight. In turn,
the decrease in the catches from the summer 1999 to the following
winter, probably reflected the seawards migration of the larger
sized gurnards. During winter, rain is more abundant, decreasing
the estuarine salinity, temperature decreases and prey is scarce,
and all favor the seawards migration. Identical seasonal migratory
movements are documented in other regions: concentration in
shallower waters in spring and summer, and movements towards
deeper areas in winter, as gurnards grow [36,64,65].
Similar to other gurnards (Aspitrigla cuculus , Aspitrigla
cuculus, Eutrigla gurnardus , Trigla lyra ), C. lucerna
produces one opaque and one hyaline ring in the otoliths each
year [4,36]. The hyaline ring usually corresponds to the period
of slow growth during autumn and winter, when food supply is
scarce, while the opaque ring is formed during fast growth 
from June to September . Yet, the marginal increment analysis
of Mondego gurnards’ otoliths was not entirely clear. The relatively
high percentage of otoliths with an opaque edge found in winter
might be related with the nursery use, as within the estuary
they benefit from better feeding conditions, resulting in material
deposition in the otolith. In contrast, a higher number of otoliths with an opaque edge was expected in the warmer seasons. The
relatively low numbers in summer 2000, though, might reflect the
recent entrance of the animals in the estuary which had not time
yet to start depositing a clear opaque ring.
Otolith readings can be complicated due to the presence of
the so-called ‘false rings’ , i.e., rings which do not correspond
to seasonal growth but result from material deposited during
critical events of the fish life. Metamorphosis, sexual maturity,
habitat changes, migrations are all critical events that occur in
the life of a fish that are known to be recorded as marks in the
otoliths , and even the diel patterns of rest and activity can
produce marks . Up to 5 false rings before the first winter ring
were observed in 63% of the Mondego gurnards, complicating
age readings. False rings are common in C. lucerna  and in
other gurnards as well (A. cuculus ) and have been related to
ontogenic processes such as the passage from pelagic to benthic
life modes, with recruitment and reproduction, with changes
in habitat or migrations, and with environmental stress .
In red gurnards from the Mediterranean, a rapid change in the
feeding strategy coincides with the size of first maturity and is
mirrored in the otolith macrostructure as large false rings .
Besides the presence of false rings, another difficulty in the otolith
reading was related to the location of its core or nucleus, due to
the high opacity. This is probably linked to protein deposition in
early development, as reported for gurnards including C. lucerna
To improve the consistency of age determinations, it has been
recommended that a combination of methods is used . Some
studies on aging gurnards have used otoliths burned at 200 to
450ºC to increase the visibility of the annual growth increments
[38,56,66,67]. In the present work, however, no preparation
method was applied to the otolith to prevent them breaking as
suggested by . Despite some difficulties, namely due to false
rings and to opacity of the otolith core, a high degree of consistency
was obtained in the systematic readings. Difficulties apart, it was
possible to attribute an age to almost all gurnards (93.7%).
Young gurnards up to one year old, dominated the estuarine
population, with decreasing numbers of fish of older age up to a
single 5 years old gurnard. Juveniles entering the estuary in spring
2000 were mostly of age class 0, and hence probably born in the
previous winter, as suggested in earlier studies [33,62].
However, since small age class 0 gurnards occupied the
estuary also in the winter time, and even a few in the autumn,
it does not exclude the possibility of an extended reproduction
period, as in the North coast of France  and in Greek waters
[55,64], starting in late summer. Maturation of gonads indicate
that the reproduction period ranges from spring to summer up
to autumn in the North of France , and from autumn to early
spring with a peak in January in the Mediterranean [72,73,74],
while in Atlantic waters, reproduction extends from December to
Larger juveniles continue migrating into the estuary, but
the majority were born the year before (i.e., with 1 year old). In
summer, most of the gurnards in the estuary were older than
one year. The abrupt decrease in number of Mondego gurnards
with increasing age from 1 to 2 years old, suggests that these
older gurnards have migrated seawards. Therefore, the residency
period within the estuary seems to be close to 2 years, though a
period of 3 years has been reported before . Older gurnards
can sporadically enter in the estuary as well, mainly during
autumn and winter, where they benefit from the more stable
In contrast to more detailed studies of the population biology,
information on length-weight relationships of C. lucerna and
other Triglidae is quite abundant, specially for Mediterranean
populations [74,76-85], but also for populations from the Atlantic
region [25,26,27,63,86,87]. These relations are generally used
to estimate the weight of a fish corresponding to a given length
and as indicators of the overall growth and fish condition [39,88].
The parameter ‘b’ is related with the fish shape: when close
to 3, it signifies that the fish grew without changing its shape,
i.e., isometric growth , as was observed in the Mondego
population, in juveniles from other C. lucerna populations [82,63]
and in other Triglidae, while allometric growth is common in
adults, at least in the Mediterranean [19,82].
The size range in this study was similar to that of  and
larger than the observed in another nearby nursery, the Tagus
estuary, where gurnards attained only 22.0cm standard length
and minimum size was 10.6cm . Further South, in the Arade
estuary, tub gurnards ranged from 6.0 to 32.4cm , which is in
line with present observations.
Again, similar to other Triglidae [34,37,56,89], C. lucerna
is a moderately long-living species and relatively fast-growing,
especially in males during the first years [4,64,85]: in the first year,
the male tub gurnard grows about 55-62% of their maximum size,
while the female grows about 30-52% [4,64]. Yet, in the present
work growth patterns were not differentiated between sexes
because gurnards were all immature.
In the otoliths of Mondego gurnards, the first growth ring
was formed when the fish were about 13.5 to 16.5cm total length,
which is in line with previous references: 12.6cm in the Catalan
Sea , and 17.0cm in Greek and Moroccan waters [64,90], but
under the 21cm observed in the North of France , while in the
Tagus estuary 23cm gurnards belong to the 0+ age class still .
The largest reference for the size of age class 0+ is about 27cm in
the Adriatic Sea .
Growth slowed down greatly relative to observations in
Morocco, as here they attain 25cm in the second year of life
, while in Mondego this size was only achieve after 3 years.
Yet, this might be related with the migration seawards of older,larger and faster growing gurnards. If so, mean length-at-age was
underestimated for ages older than one year. In general, from
age class 1+ onwards, the growth rate decreases considerably,
still with gender differences, reflecting a shift from somatic to
reproductive growth as in other Triglidae [34,37,56,64,66,89]:
males grow 15% of their maximum size and females only 6-9%
[4,64,74]. Curiously, although males attain their maximum size
faster, and hence earlier than females, since their maximum size
is shorter than that of females –32.7cm and 67 cm respectively
for males from Greece and the Morocco versus 76.7cm and 61.0
cm for females, respectively for the same locations [28,64] -, the
annual size increment is larger in females .
The same way, females’ longevity is referred to be larger than
that of males, though both can live quite long: 13 and 14 years,
respectively for males and females . In fact, the tub gurnard is
described as the largest of the European Triglidae , as it reaches
a maximum size of 75cm and 15 years old (Baron, 1985a). Yet,
males older than 3  to 4 years old are rare . In Mondego,
a small share of the gurnards (about 20%) was older than one
year of age and just 9.5% were older than 3 years. Similar to other
Triglidae, male sexual maturity is also attained at smaller size
and younger age than in females [37,50] and even earlier in each
reproductive season [30,64]. Size at first maturity varies across
the geographic range: 14 and 15cm total length, respectively in
males and females, in France and Libyan Mediterranean Sea
[30,73], and 21 and 23cm in UK waters , while the age at first
maturity is 2–3 years in Italian waters . This means that some
of the gurnards from Mondego could be part of the breeders’ pool,
though they were all sexually immature still.
Finally, the asymptotic length determined applying the von
Bertalanffy model (L∞ = 22 to 54cm) was far from the species
maximum size of over 75cm - a maximum record of 81.0cm and
82.8cm was reported in the North of Portugal  and in the Black
Sea , respectively. However, this is in line with a juvenile
population which has still much to grow. In contrast, the growth
constant K, depending on the dataset used for its determination
(0.148 to 0.595 years-1), was mostly over the value for other
Atlantic and Mediterranean locations, confirming a fast growth, as
expected for such a young population.
In conclusion, this paper presents the growth patterns for an
Atlantic population of tub gurnard during estuarine occupation.
ICES has identified tub gurnard as a new MoU (Memorandum of
Understanding) species and has recommended regular monitoring
of biological parameters to define stock characteristics and assist
in the sustainable fisheries’ management . The results of this
paper contribute to provide such information in relation to growth
during early life within a nursery area. The present work further
showed the importance of developing a standard aging protocol
adapted for this species to overcome certain particularities in the otolith readings (presence of false rings, core opacity). Feeding
habits and reproductive biology should be investigated to clarify
the origin of the marks in C. lucerna otoliths
The research was supported by the project RecBio – Operation
MAR-01.04.02-FEAMP-0025, co-founded by the European
Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), through the Operational
Program MAR2020. J. Campos acknowledges the collaboration
of Preciosa Sobral and Laurinda Paiva in the laboratory work,
the fisherman Raul in the sampling campaigns, and the financial
support with national funds by FCT - Foundation for Science
and Technology through the projects UIDB/04423/2020 and
Conflict of interest: The authors declare that they have no
conflict of interest.
Ethical statement: All applicable international, national
and institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were
followed. The care and use of experimental animals complied with
animal welfare laws, guidelines and policies as approved by the
European Union (2010-63-EU Directive).
Informed consent: This article does not contain any studies
with human participants.
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