Comparison of Two Otolith Processing Methods for Estimating Age of Silver Carp

Accurate age estimates are critical in the development, implementation, and assessment of silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix) management plans. Lapilli otoliths are the most commonly used calcified structures for silver carp age estimation, but studies on the precision of two established preparation methods [i.e., grind-and-burn (GB), thin-section (TS)] are lacking. Therefore, we assessed within-reader, between-reader, and between-method precision for 125 silver carp collected from six rivers throughout the Lower Mississippi River Basin (Arkansas, Cache, Mississippi, St. Francis, White, and Yazoo). Additionally, we compared the effort and material costs associated with each method. Overall, younger ages were estimated with the GB method (median estimated age = 6 yr, range = 3–12) than the TS method (median estimated age = 7 yr, range = 3–13). Between-method comparisons revealed low agreement (average CV = 16.40) and significant bias (Evans-Hoenig χ2 = 31.81, P < 0.01) between the two methods, particularly in older individuals. The TS method (average CV = 12.50) displayed similar between-reader precision to the GB method (average CV = 11.75). Younger age estimates for the GB method may be a result of misidentification of annuli near the otolith margin as both readers reported that TS otoliths offered clearer views than GB otoliths. Processing effort (TS method = 6.7 min otolith–1; GB method = 4.6 min otolith–1) and material costs (TS method = US$0.37 otolith–1; GB method = $0.34 otolith–1) were similar for the two methods and are likely not a factor when choosing an age estimation protocol. Our results indicate that use of the TS method for silver carp age estimation may lead to less biased age estimates, especially in established populations with greater abundances of older individuals, assuming putative additional annuli observed in thin-sections are true annuli.

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