Species Description: Trachinotus carolinus grows to 43 -63 cm (17 - 25 inches) in length. The body profile is relatively short, deep, and moderately compressed. Color is typically blue to greenish dorsally, fading to silver laterally, with the ventral surface tending to be silvery to yellow in color. There are no visible vertical bars on sides.
Fins are dusky or yellowish in color, particularly the anal fin, which can be lemon yellow in young specimens (Gilbert 1986). The pectoral fins are shorter than the head, with the pelvic fins even shorter than the pectorals. The spinous portion of the dorsal fin has 6 spines that are set close to the body. The anterior portion of the second dorsal fin is elongated, with 22 - 27 (usually 23 - 25) soft rays that extend nearly to the caudal peduncle. The anal fin mirrors the dorsal fin, but has 20 - 24 (usually 21 - 22) rays and originates somewhat behind the dorsal fin. The caudal peduncle is moderately deep and lacks scutes and finlets. The caudal fin is deeply forked.
The head profile slopes to a blunt snout, with the mouth somewhat inferior. Teeth are small and conical in young fish, but disappear by the time young grow to approximately 20 cm (7.9 inches). There are no teeth on the tongue at any life stage. There are 8 - 14 gill rakers on the lower limb of the gill arch. Well-developed pharyngeal plates are present. Scales are small and cycloid. The lateral line arches to the midpoint of the soft dorsal fin and then becomes straight toward the caudal fin (Berry and Smith-Vaniz, 1978; Gilbert 1986).
Potentially Misidentified Species: Florida pompano are similar in body form to two related species: the permit (Trachinotus falcatus) and the palometa (T. goodie). The permit has fewer soft rays on both the dorsal and anal fins. The dorsal fin typically has 17-21 (usually 17 or 18) soft rays, while the anal fin typically has 16-19 (usually 17-18) rays. Small permit under 9 cm (3.5 inches) total length (TL) also have teeth on the tongue. Additionally, permit grow considerably larger than Florida pompano and can reach as much as 20 - 50 pounds.
The palometa also has fewer dorsal and anal rays, typically 19 - 20 dorsal rays and 16 - 18 anal rays. It also has 4 dark narrow bars on the upper body. Further, the anterior anal and dorsal soft rays are elongated in subadults and adults, and can extend as far as the caudal peduncle.
Regional Occurrence: Though uncommon north of Chesapeake Bay, Florida pompano occur in nearshore coastal waters from approximately Cape Cod, Massachusetts south to Brazil, including the Gulf of Mexico, Central America, and patchily in some parts of the West Indies (Gilbert 1986; Robins and Ray 1986). It is generally absent from clear-water, tropical regions such as the Bahamas.
IRL Distribution: Florida pompano are distributed throughout the IRL with major concentrations occurring along east central Florida from Cape Canaveral south to Palm Beach. On the west coast of Florida, pompano are common from approximately Ft. Meyers south to the Florida Keys.
Age, Size, Lifespan: Maximum recorded length for a Florida pompano was 63.5 cm (25 inches) TL, and 3.6 kg (7.9 pounds) (Fields, 1962; Robbins and Ray 1986), though most are harvested below 1.8 kg (4 pounds) (Buckow 1965).
Finucane (1969) estimated a monthly growth rate of approximately 22 mm (0.86 inches) for post-juveniles, while Bellinger and Avault (1970) estimated an average adult growth rate of 36 mm (1.4 inches) per month. Females tend to grow faster and reach larger sizes than do males (Muller et al. 2002).
Berry and Iversen (1967) estimated that most Florida pompano live 3 - 4 years, with some living over 7 years.
Abundance: Though it is estimated that stocks of Florida pompano are overfished (Muller et al. 2002), pompano can be abundant in east central Florida, especially seasonally. It generally forms small to large schools.
Reproduction: Males reach sexual maturity at approximately age 1, when they attain 35.6 cm (14 inches) TL. Females reach maturity between the ages of 2-3, when they reach 30 - 39.9 cm (11.8 - 15.7 inches) TL (Muller et al. 2002).
The spawning season for Florida pompano is protracted, lasting from spring through late fall, with peaks from April - June and September - October (Gilbert 1986). It is generally assumed that spawning occurs offshore, based on evidence from larval collections and collection of spent fishes (Gilbert 1986, Muller 2002). Finucane (1969) collected small larvae measuring 3.0 - 4.5 mm (0.12 - 0.18 inches) in waters 24 km (15 miles) offshore in the Gulf of Mexico.
Trachinotus carolinus apparently does not spawn north of Virginia (Gilbert 1986).
Fecundity estimates range from 133,000 - 800,000 eggs per season, depending on body size (Finucane 1969, 1970; Moe et al. 1968).
Temperature: Berry and Iversen (1967) reported that pompano in the Tampa Bay area inhabit waters ranging from 17 - 32 °C, but preferred temperatures of 28 - 32 °C. Moe et al. (1968) studied the effects of decreasing temperatures on pompanos, finding that signs of stress began at when temperature was dropped to 12.2 °C. Critical minimum temperature for pompano in this study was determined to be 10°C, while critical maximum temperature was approximately 38°C. However, it is known that smaller juveniles can withstand considerably higher temperatures, as many have been observed in shoreline tidepools where temperatures may exceed 45 °C (Gilbert 1986).
Spawning temperatures are not known with certainty, however, few young Florida pompano have ever been collected in waters less than 19°C (Fields 1962).
Salinity: Adult Florida pompano are rare in brackish waters where salinity falls below 25 parts per thousand (ppt), preferring salinities of 28 - 37 ppt. Juveniles are able to tolerate salinity as low as 9 ppt (Gunter and Hall 1963) and as high as 50 ppt (Perret et al 1971). Under laboratory conditions, Moe et al. (1968) were able to acclimate captive pompano to 9 ppt, and then to 1.3 ppt. without any mortality occurring.
Dissolved Oxygen: Moe et al. (1968) found that pompano became stressed when dissolved oxygen content dropped to approximately 3 parts per million (ppm). Mortality occurred at 2.5 ppm.
Other Physical Tolerances: Moe et al (1968) reported mortality in pompano when pH levels in aquaria dropped below 4 or exceeded 12.
Trophic Mode: Pompano are primarily bottom feeders that opportunistically "graze" preferred species. Well developed pharyngeal plates are present, and indicate that hard-shelled organisms such as crabs and mollusks are important in the diet. Young pompano apparently feed on organisms that are most available; but become more selective in their prey choices as they age (Finucane 1969; Gilbert 1986). Juveniles ranging in size from 13.5 - 80.5 mm (0.53 - 3.2 inches) SL consume amphipods, bivalves, crab larvae, copepods, isopods and invertebrate eggs (Fields 1962). Finucane (1969) reported pompano in Tampa Bay, Florida, ranging in size from 50 - 100 mm (1.9 - 3.9 inches), ate crustaceans and mollusks, while those from 110 - 138 mm (4.3 - 5.4 inches) ate Donax sp., particularly Donax variabilis (variable coquina).
Limited data are available for food habits of adult Florida pompano. However, Finucane (1969) sampled gut contents from 19 adult pompanos taken in the Tampa Bay area and found that all fishes sampled fed exclusively on the scorched mussel, Brachidontes exustus, which commonly lives attached to rocks in the deeper portion of Tampa Bay. However, adult pompano caught in the Gulf of Mexico, in the vicinity of oil rigs, fed primarily on penaeid shrimp.
Competitors: Florida pompano are preyed upon by birds, particularly brown pelicans, and other birds that utilize beach areas as feeding grounds (Gilbert 1986).
Parasites of Florida pompano include two genera of isopods. Ione spp. attach to the mouth and gill area, while Aegathoa spp. attach to the body and fins. A parasitic brachyuran, Argulus sp. was also found on the skin. Mature and immature nematodes were located inside the body cavity and encysted in the viscera (Finucane 1969).
Habitats: Trachinotus carolinus larvae spend their first month of life in offshore waters, migrating nearshore upon reaching approximately 10 - 30 mm (0.39 - 1.18 inches) standard length (SL). In Florida, migration typically occurs from mid-April through mid-May (Fields 1962). This early group of larvae is followed at approximately 1 month intervals by later cohorts until October or, sometimes, December. Juvenile pompano migrate to deeper waters upon reaching 60 - 70 mm (2.4 - 2.8 inches) TL, beginning in mid-July and continuing until winter water temperatures drop below 19°C, at which time, nearly all juveniles have moved to deeper waters (Gilbert 1986).
Low energy surf zones along beaches are the preferred nursery habitat for larvae and young juveniles (Field 1962; Gilbert 1986). Typical habitats for older juveniles as well as adult Trachinotus carolinus are sloping beaches with sandy or muddy substrata, estuaries and shallow bays, piers, and sand flats (Fields 1962; Gilbert 1986). Maximum depth is approximately 60 to 75m (197 - 246 feet) (Field 1962).
Fisheries Importance: Prized as one of the great food fishes in Florida waters, the dockside price for Florida pompano is typically among the highest per pound for any fish (Gilbert 1986). Florida pompano are caught commercially in all states from Virginia through Texas, but Florida accounts for more than 90% of the total harvest. The average commercial size for Florida pompano ranges from 27.9 - 33.0 cm (11 - 13 inches) in length (Muller et al. 2002). In Florida waters, most of the commercial catch is harvested along the west coast, from Charlotte County south through Monroe County, with the bulk of the harvest taken offshore from Lee and Collier Counties (Muller et al. 2002). On Florida's east coast, the bulk of the commercial catch is taken offshore between Brevard county and Palm Beach County. Some of the commercial catch is harvested from the Indian River and Banana Rivers (Muller et al. 2002; Gilbert 1986). Interestingly, harvests of pompano increased in Lee and Collier Counties after gill nets were banned from Florida waters in 1995; however it is believed that this increase in harvest resulted more from changes in gear types than to an increase in the pompano population (Muller et al. 2002).
The commercial fishery for pompano shows a degree of seasonality. In northwest Florida, most landings are made in April, with secondary peaks from August through September. In the Tampa Bay area, the fishery is active year-round, with landings peaking from March - April, and July - November. In the Florida Keys, most landings occur from December through February. On Florida's east coast, the northeast fishery peaks in April, while in the vicinity of the Indian River Lagoon, the highest landings are recorded between November and May (Muller et al. 2002).
Catch rates for pompano, when adjusted statistically for catch effort (number of trips, duration of trips, etc.) have declined gradually on the east coast of Florida from 1985 - 2000, with an average of 54% fewer trips after 1995 on the Atlantic coast. On the west coast, catch rates were stable between 1985 and 1992, and then increased. However, after 1995, commercial trips declined an average of 65% (Muller et al. 2002).
Table 1. Total dollar value of IRL Florida pompano, Trachinotus carolinus, between 1987 - 2001.
|Volusia||Brevard||Indian River||St. Lucie||Martin|
Table 2. By-county annual and cumulative percentages of the Florida pompano harvest for the years 1987-2001.
|Volusia||Brevard||Indian River||St. Lucie||Martin|
Table 3. By-county cumulative dollar value and percentage of total for the Florida pompano harvest from 1987 - 2001.
RECREATIONAL LANDINGS DATA: Trachinotus carolinus is also an important recreational species, with landings by sport fishers increasing since 1989 (Muller et al. 2002). Approximately 58% of Florida's recreational harvest of pompano is made on the east coast; with nearly 59% of the east coast catch taken from shore-based sites such as jetties and piers, and 41% harvested using boats. The bulk of the east coast harvest is taken during winter and early spring. However, recreational landings in the Gulf of Mexico show no such pattern (Muller et al. 2002).
|To 3 Miles||To 200|
|Other East |
Table 4. Summary data for recreational fishery in Eastern Florida waters for the Florida pompano, Trachinotus carolinus, from 1997 - 2004. Data provided by National Marine Fisheries Service, Fisheries Statistics Division, NOAA.
|To 3||To 200 Miles||Other E. FL Inland||IRL|
|% Total||% Total||% Total||% Total|
Table 5. By-county annual and cumulative percentages of the Florida pompano harvest for the years 1997 - 2001. Data provided by National Marine Fisheries Service, Fisheries Statistics Division, NOAA.
|To 3 Miles||To 200 Miles||Other Inland||IRL|
Table 6. Summary of the Florida pompano recreational harvest and the percentage of total fish captured in each area from 1997 - 2004. Data provided by National Marine Fisheries Service, Fisheries Statistics Division, NOAA.
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