Age and Growth of Elasmobranchs and Applications to Fisheries Management and Conservation in the Northeast Pacific Ocean
In addition to being an academic endeavour, the practical purpose of conducting age and growth studies on fishes is to provide biological data to stock assessment scientists and fisheries managers so they may better understand population demographics and manage exploitation rates. Age and size data are used to build growth models, which are a critical component of stock assessments. Though age determination of elasmobranchs in the northeast Pacific Ocean (NEP) began in the 1930s, the field has evolved substantially in recent years, allowing scientists to incorporate age data into assessments for more species than ever before. Owing to the highly diverse biology of this group of fishes, each species has its own set of challenges with regard to age determination. Age determination methods typically rely on semicalcified hard structures that form regular growth patterns; however, the structure selected and preparation method used is often species specific. New staining techniques have improved the ability to assess age and improve ageing precision for some species, and advances in microchemical methods have allowed for independent means of estimating age and validating age determination accuracy. Here we describe current age determination methods for NEP elasmobranchs. While the library of available techniques is increasing, there are still some NEP species for which reliable ageing methods have yet to be defined; we discuss these challenges and potential avenues of future research. Finally, we conclude by describing how age estimates are used in growth models and subsequently in stock assessments of selected NEP elasmobranchs.