Spot, which belong to the drum family (Sciaenidae), derive their common name from the presence of a dark spot or blotch behind the upper end of the opercle or gill slit. They have a short, flattened body with an elevated back, and, unlike Atlantic croaker, they lack barbels. Spot are purplish gray above, with a golden luster and oblique streaks that extend below the lateral line. Their caudal fin is darkish, while the other fins are usually pale yellow. In early fall, as spawning season approaches, South Carolinians often refer to the large males as "golden spot." Presumably, this is because males tend to acquire a more defined golden hue during this time of the year.
Habitat and Biology
Spot are found along the east coast from Florida to the Middle Atlantic states during the warmer months. These fishes are estuarine dependent, with a variety of habitats being utilized by various life history stages in the estuaries of the ACE Basin. In fall, spot migrate south and offshore to spawn during late fall and early winter in the warmer waters caused by the presence of the Gulf Stream. Larval spot use ocean and tidal currents to transport them from the offshore spawning areas to the estuarine nursery habitat. As they approach the coastal inlets, spot rise to the surface during the flood tides and move through the water column towards the bottom during ebb tide. By using differential current velocities from surface to bottom (surface currents are stronger than those near the bottom), spot gain access to the estuaries.
Although numerous authors have described the estuary as a nursery for small fishes and shellfish, not all habitats within the estuary are used by a given species. The shallow marsh habitat, with its series of dendritic creeks, mudflats, and shallows, is the principal nursery area for spot after they gain access to the estuary. They recruit to these shallows via tidal currents and settle from the water column to become demersal. In general, the smallest spot are found further upriver and in shallower water. The headwater regions of salt marshes are not only a refuge from predators but also have an abundant food supply for juveniles. Spot apparently live in association with estuaries and shallow coastal waters until they attain maturity (about 2 years old), at which time they migrate to deep ocean waters to spawn. Spot feed on benthic infauna, primarily polychaetes, crustaceans, and mollusks.
Spot are harvested commercially throughout their range. Along the east coast, the commercial catch of spot has averaged 3.7 million kg (8.2 million lbs) per year since 1950. Spot are also a large constituent of the by-catch from the South Atlantic penaeid shrimp-trawl fishery. Recreational catches throughout the region averaged 1.7 million kg (3.9 million lbs) per year since 1981. In South Carolina waters, recreational anglers target spot mainly in the fall, as the fish move out of the estuaries towards offshore spawning grounds. Spot are abundant and ubiquitous inhabitants of South Carolina waters. They are a regular part of the diet of many of the predators in the estuary such as spotted seatrout, red drum, herons, and osprey. There are no size restrictions or bag limits governing the harvest of spot in South Carolina.
Bearden, C.M. 1961. Common marine fishes of South Carolina. Bears Bluff Lab Contribution No. 34. Bears Bluff Laboratory, Inc., Wadmalaw Island, South Carolina.
Johnson, G.D. 1978. Development of fishes of the mid-Atlantic Bight: an atlas of egg, larval and juvenile stages. Volume IV: Carrangidae through Ephippidae. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Biological Services FWS/OBS-78/12. Ft. Collins, CO.
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.
Pacheco, A.L. 1962. Age and growth of spot in Lower Chesapeake Bay, with notes on distribution and abundance of juveniles in the York River system. Chesapeake Science 3(1):18-27.
Potter, I.C., P.N. Claridge, and R. M. Warwick. 1986. Consistency of seasonal changes in the estuarine fish assemblage. Marine Ecology Progress Series 32(2-3):217-228.
Shenker, J.M., and J.M. Dean. 1979. The utilization of an intertidal salt marsh creek by larval and juvenile fishes: Abundance, diversity, and temporal variation. Estuaries 2(3):154-163.
Weinstein, M.P. 1979. Shallow marsh habitats as primary nurseries for fishes and shellfish, Cape Fear River, North Carolina. Fisheries Bulletin U.S. 7:339-357.
Wenner, C. 1998. Personal communication. South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, Charleston, SC.