Atlantic Croaker

Atlantic Croaker, Micropogonias undulatus

The Atlantic Croaker, Micropogonias undulatus, whose common Spanish name is gurrubata, is the smallest species in the Croaker or Sciaenidae Family, known collectively as berrugatas and corvinas in Mexico. Globally, there are only six species in the genus Micropogonias, five of which are found in Mexican waters, two in the Atlantic and three in the Pacific.

The Atlantic Croakers have elongated compressed bodies. They are silvery with a pink cast and are darker dorsally with scattered dark spots on their back and oblique dark lines on their flanks. Their spiny dorsal fin has dark dots and a black margin and their other fins are pale to yellowish. Their pectoral fin base is dark. They turn to a deep golden color during mating. Their head has a prominent overhanging snout with a moderately large inferior mouth equipped with villiform teeth set in bands. Their chin has eight pores and three or four pairs of small barbels. Their snout has 10 to 12 pores, five to seven at the front and five on the sides. The margins of their gill covers are strongly serrated with three or four strong spines set at an angle. Their anal fin has two spines, the second of which is strong, and eight or nine rays; their caudal fin has a short margin with a blunt point being doubly concave; and their dorsal fin is deeply notched with 10 spines followed by one spine and 28 or 29 rays. They have 22 to 29 short slender gill rakers. Their lateral line extends to the center to the caudal fin. They are covered with scales.

The Atlantic Croakers are bottom dwellers found over muddy and sandy bottoms in coastal waters at depths up to 600 feet; they also enter brackish estuaries. They reach a maximum length of 69 cm (27 inches) and weight of 19 kg (8.7 pounds). They undergo migrations entering bays and estuaries as juveniles and returning to the ocean upon maturity. They are capable of generating a large sound by vibrating strong muscles against their swim bladder; this is used for communication, including by males to attract females. They feed on crabs, shrimp, and detritus. In turn they are preyed upon by bluefish, other croakers, sharks, spotted seatrout, striped bass, and humans. Greater than 95% of the population dies every year from predation. Each female releases between 100,000 and two million pelagic eggs per annum. Their larvae are pelagic. They have a lifespan of up to 13 years.

In Mexican waters the Atlantic Croakers are found in all waters of the Atlantic with the exception of along the east coast of the Yucatan.

The Atlantic Croaker is most likely confused with the Red Drum, Sciaenops ocellatus, (iridescent silvery copper color) and the Spot, Leiostomus xanthurus (large black spot just above gill cover).

The Atlantic Croakers are one of the most abundant fish in North America and an important commercial species. They are caught via gill nets, pounds nets, and fish traps with millions of pounds sold annually. They are sold domestically and also imported into the United States at a level approaching 10 million dollars per year. They are also a by-catch of shrimp trawlers. They are known to contain trematodes and should not be eaten raw. They were a primary food source of Native Americans. They are a popular recreational angling foe being easily caught on dead shrimp off the bottom. They are also used as live bait targeting Seatrout. From a conservation perspective they are currently considered of Least Concern due to their wide distribution and being common within their range.

Atlantic Croaker, Micropogonias undulatus. Fish caught of the Point Lookout Park Pier, Scotland, Maryland, June 2012. Length 23.0 cm (9.1 inches). Catch, photo, and identification courtesy of Kenneth Tse, Toronto, Canada.