As members of the drum family (Sciaenidae), croaker are well known for producing "drumming" sounds, which they do by vibrating special muscles on either side of their swimbladder. They are common inhabitants of South Carolina estuaries, including the ACE Basin, during spring and summer months. Croaker are easily recognized by numerous short barbels on either side below the mouth and a sharply jagged preopercle. The latter can be painfully evident upon holding a croaker, as the fish tend to flare their opercles when disturbed or frightened. Croaker have a rather long head with an inferior mouth, appropriate for feeding on the bottom. They have silvery bodies with a series of copperish or brownish markings arranged in diagonal bars that tend to become less distinct as the fish grows. Pectoral and pelvic fins are bright yellow to orange.
Habitat and Biology
Atlantic croaker are in the same family as spot (Sciaenidae) and have a life history similar to spot. This species has a protracted spawning season from late summer through early spring; however, peak reproductive activity is in late fall. Spawning takes place in near-shore ocean waters, and the resulting early-life stages utilize some of the same behavioral patterns as spot to gain entrance to estuarine systems. Atlantic croaker are about 1/4 inch (4-6 mm) at the time of recruitment into the estuarine habitats. This species also utilizes the shallow marsh habitat as its primary nursery area. The small fishes feed on crustaceans and benthic infauna and epifauna. After a short residence period, they move from the shallows to other areas of the estuary such as the channels. Some Atlantic croakers are sexually mature between age one and two, and all are mature the following year. Throughout their life, Atlantic croakers eat small crustaceans and small fishes either on the bottom or near the bottom.
Landings of Atlantic croaker in South Carolina have represented a limited contribution to the commercial catch for the South Atlantic region. Since 1950, commercial landings in South Carolina have fluctuated widely, reaching a peak in the early 1970s. As of 1987, when a Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic croaker was instituted by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFS), commercial landings in South Carolina resulted mainly from a limited fall haul seine fishery and from shrimp trawl bycatch. Currently, most Atlantic croaker that are sold commercially are caught incidentally.
The recreational harvest in South Carolina is also relatively limited. Catches since 1981 were at their highest in 1984 and at their lowest in 1993. Currently, there are no restrictions governing the catch of Atlantic croaker in South Carolina.
McErlean, A.J., S.G. O'Connor, J.A. Milhursky, and C.I. Gibson. 1973. Abundance, diversity and seasonal patterns of estuarine fish populations. Estuarine Coastal Marine Science 1:19-36.
Miglarese, J.V., C.W. McMillan, and M.H. Shealy, Jr. 1982. Seasonal abundance of Atlantic croaker (Micropogonias undulatus) in relation to bottom salinity and temperature in South Carolina estuaries. Estuaries 5(3):216-223.
Moore, C. 1993. South Carolina report for Atlantic croaker. In: Proceedings of a Workshop on spot, (Leiostomus xanthurus) and Atlantic croaker (Micropogonias undulatus). Special Report No. 25. Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, Washington, DC.
Wenner, C. 1998. Personal communication. South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, Marine Resources Division, Charleston, S.C.