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Species Name:   Archosargus probatocephalus
Common Name:                         (Sheepshead)



I.  TAXONOMY

Kingdom Phylum/Division: Class: Order: Family: Genus:
Animalia Chordata Osteichthyes Perciformes Sparidae Archosargus


The Sheepshead, Archosargus probatocephalus.  Illustration by Diana Rome Peebles 1998.  Courtesy of Florida 
Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Division of Marine Fisheries.

Species Name:

Archosargus probatocephalus (Walbaum, 1792)

Common Name:
Sheepshead, sheepshead bream, sheepshead porgie, convict fish.

Synonymy:
Sparus probatocephalus (Walbaum, 1792); no longer valid.


Other Taxonomic Groupings:
Superclass: Osteichthyes
Subclass: Neopterygii
Infraclass: Teleostei
Superorder: Acanthopterygii
Suborder: Percoidei

Species Description:
Archosargus probatocephalus is a deep-bodied, compressed fish that reaches 91 cm (35.8 inches) in length, and 9.6 kg (21.2 pounds) or more in weight. The back is elevated behind the head, which is deep and sloping in profile. The snout is short with the mouth inferior and nearly horizontal. The anterior teeth are incisor-like, with posterior molars set further back. There are 6-7 gill rakers on lower limb of the first gill arch. Scales are finely serrate. There is a single dorsal fin, the spinous portion of which is more elongate than the soft portion. There are 12 strong dorsal spines and 10-12 soft rays. The anal fin bears 3 spines, the second of which is the most enlarged, and 10-11 soft rays. The caudal fin is forked. There are 44-49 lateral line scales. Body color is generally gray or green-yellow base color, marked with 5-7 vertical black bars. The dorsal, anal and ventral fins are typically black or gray to dusky, while the caudal and pectoral fins are more greenish in tone. Coloration is more distinct in young fishes (Hildebrand and Schroeder 1927; Hoese and Moore 1977; Johnson 1978). Juvenile sheepshead are brownish in color and have a median line along the ventral surface. In addition to the vertical black bars, there are also 3 black spots: one set behind the isthmus, one beneath the pectoral fin base, and one set anteriorally to the anal fin (Hildebrand and Cable 1938).


II.  HABITAT AND DISTRIBUTION 

Regional Occurrence:
Archosargus probatocephalus is common on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States. Its range extends from Cape Cod, Massachusetts south through Florida and the Gulf of Mexico to Brazil. Wanderers are occasionally observed as far north as Nova Scotia. It is absent from Bermuda, the West Indies and the Bahamas (Jennings 1985).

IRL Distribution:
Sheepshead are common throughout the IRL.


III. LIFE HISTORY AND POPULATION BIOLOGY

Age, Size, Lifespan:
Archosargus probatocephalus grow to approximately 91 cm (35.8 inches) total length (TL) and 9.6 kg (21.2 pounds), though Hildebrand and Schroeder (1927) reported the largest sheepshead recorded weighed 66 kg (145.5 pounds). In most areas, however, sheepshead never achieve this large a size. Maximum lifespan has been estimated at 20 years in Louisiana (Beckman et al. 1991); however most estimates from other regions are lower, ranging from 8 years in North Carolina (Schwartz 1990) to 14 years in Georgia (Music and Pafford 1984). In a Florida study of sheepshead collected from inshore waters, the maximum age for males was estimated to be 13 years, while in females, maximum age was 16 years (MacDonald unpubl. in Murphy 2000).

Abundance:
Sheepshead are considered common to abundant throughout the southeastern Atlantic states as well as on the Gulf coast (Jennings 1985).

Reproduction:
Archosargus probatocephalus females in Florida and Georgia mature at approximately Age 2 (Tucker 1987). However, they apparently mature at somewhat younger ages in Louisiana, where essentially all males older than Age 2, and females over Age 1 were found to be mature (Render and Wilson 1992).

Spawning occurs in late winter and early spring in the coastal mid-Atlantic, south Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico (Springer and Woodburn 1960; Christmas and Waller 1973; Jennings 1985). Off Louisiana, Render and Wilson (1992) reported spawning occurred from late February through late April. In Georgia, spawning occurs primarily in April (Music and Pafford 1992).

Though some evidence has been put forward that suggests spawning may occur in estuaries (Render and Wilson 1992), it is generally believed that sheepshead spawn in the nearshore and offshore waters of the continental shelf. Evidence from Music and Pafford (1984) and Render and Wilson (1992) show that females with hydrated oocytes and post-ovulatory females are more commonly collected from nearshore waters than from estuaries during the spawning season.

Sheepshead appear to be fractional spawners (Render and Wilson 1992). Estimates of spawning frequency are varied, and range from once per day to once every 20 days. (Murphy 2000). Batch fecundity of females is also widely ranging. Females caught in inshore waters had batch fecundities of 1,100 - 40,000 eggs, while females captured offshore had 14,000 - 250,000 eggs.

Embryology:
Eggs are buoyant and measure approximately 0.8 mm (0.03 inches) in diameter. They hatch after 40 hours in water temperatures of approximately 25 °C (77 °F). Larvae are pelagic and measure 2 - 4.5 mm (0.08 - 0.2 inches) in length (Johnson 1978). Pigmentation in yolk-sac larvae is restricted to one melanophore set at the angle of the jaw, and 3 melanophores set ventrally posterior to the vent. Most melanophores disappear by the time larvae reach 6 mm (0.24 inches) in length (Mook 1977). Larvae persist for approximately 30-40 days, when metamorphosis to the juvenile stage occurs, typically at lengths of approximately 8mm (0.3 inches) standard length (SL) (Tucker and Alshuth 1996).

A study by Parsons and Peters (1989) reported growth rates in both larvae and juveniles of Tampa Bay, Florida as approximately 0.20 mm (0.008 inches) per day. However, a study by Springer and Woodburn (1960) suggests a somewhat faster growth rate of 0.35 mm (0.014 inches) per day, as estimated from average total lengths for young-of-the-year sheepshead in Tampa Bay during June - August.

Though few studies exist that show growth rates in older juveniles and adults, Beckman et al. (1991) reported that between Age 1 and Age 2, sheepshead reach approximately 26 cm (10.2 inches); between Age 2 and 3 they reach fork lengths of approximately 30.5 cm (12 inches), and between Age 3 and 4 they reach 35 cm (13.8 inches). In Florida, there is an apparent difference in growth rates between east coast sheepshead and west coast sheepshead, with mean growth rate for Atlantic coast fishes slightly larger at age (through Age 5) than Gulf coast fishes (MacDonald unpubl. in Murphy 2000).


IV.  PHYSICAL TOLERANCES

Temperature:
Archosargus probatocephalus have been collected from waters ranging in temperature from 5 - 35.1°C (41 - 95.2 °F)(Perret 1971; Johnson 1978).
Tampa Bay Juveniles have been collected at temperatures ranging from 12.8 - 32.5 8°C (55.0 - 90.5 °F)
(Springer and Woodburn 1960).

Salinity:
Sheepshead are a euryhaline species and have been collected from waters in where salinity ranged from 0 - 35 parts per thousand (ppt) (Springer and Woodburn 1960; Kelly 1965; Perret 1971; Perret and Caillouet 1974).

Parasites:
Parasites of sheepshead include ciliates, nematodes, trematodes, and isopods; though infestations with these organisms pose no apparent threat to large populations (Norris and Overstreet 1975; Overstreet and Howse 1977; Overstreet 1978).


V.  COMMUNITY ECOLOGY

Trophic Mode:
Sheepshead are omnivores. The larval diet consists primarily of copepods, amphipods and other zooplankton (Benson 1982). Juveniles under 50 mm (2 inches) in length primarily consume ostracods, gammarids, mysids, copepods and polychaete worms, and bryozoans (Hildebrand and Cable 1938; Springer and Woodburn 1960; Sedberry 1987), but will take any soft-bodied organisms found in seagrasses. After reaching 50 mm (2 inches) in length, there is a dietary shift towards hard-shelled organisms such as bivalve mollusks, brachyurans, echinoderms, and barnacles, though small fishes are opportunistically consumed as well (Odum et al. 1982; Jennings 1985; Sedberry 1978). Adults feed primarily on algae and invertebrates. Ogburn (1984) reported that in North Carolina, sheepshead consumed twice as much algae as invertebrate species. However, Sedberry (1987) reported that for adults of the South Atlantic Bight, bivalves, ascidians and echinoderms were important components of the diet in sheepshead larger than 350 mm (13.8 inches) Standard length (SL). In Georgia, Music and Pafford (1984) reported that sheepshead fed primarily on bryozoans, oysters, decapod shrimp, and barnacles.

Habitats:
Smaller pelagic larvae are generally collected in surface waters over sandy bottoms, within estuaries, around seawalls or jetties (Spring and Woodburn 1960; Parsons and Peters 1989), nearshore waters, estuaries and bays (Jennings 1985; Parsons and Peters 1989). Juveniles are most common in seagrasses or over muddy bottoms (Odum and Heald 1972; Jennings 1985). Upon reaching approximately 40 mm (1.6 inches) in length by late summer, juveniles begin leaving nursery areas and congregate with adults around stone jetties, piers, wrecks, and breakwaters (Jennings 1985).

Adults favor habitats with some amount of topographic relief, and can be common over oyster reefs, piers, breakwaters muddy shallows, wrecks, and in the Gulf of Mexico, oil platforms (Johnson 1978; Jennings 1985).

Sheepshead are not truly migratory, but do move to offshore spawning grounds with the onset of cooler water temperatures in late fall and winter (Gilhen et al. 1976; Jennings 1985), and return to nearshore waters and estuaries after spawning takes place in spring. Music and Pafford (1984) found that tagged sheepshead in Georgia never moved more than 100 km (62.5 miles) from their tagging sites, with emigrating fishes leaving estuaries for nearshore reefs close to the sites where they were initially tagged.

Associated Species:
Sheepshead are commonly landed with white mullet, black mullet, jacks, and mojarras (Murphy 2000).


VI. SPECIAL STATUS

Special Status:
Commercial and Recreational fisheries.

Fisheries Importance:  

Commercial fishery:
The sheepshead has limited commercial value, though its importance as a food fish varies with region (Jennings 1985). Murphy (2000) reported annual commercial landings in Florida between 1986-1994 as 790,000 pounds, declining to 310,000 pounds after 1995, coincident with the gill netting ban implemented in 1995 and a minimum size limit of 12 inches. Commercial landings are greatest in the central coast regions of Florida. On the east coast, landings are greatest from Duval and Volusia Counties south to St. Lucie County. On the west coast, landings are concentrated in the Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor areas.

Between 1987 - 2001, the commercial harvest of Archosargus probatocephalus in Florida totaled 9.2 million pounds, and was valued at $4.9 million. The 5 county area encompassing the IRL (Volusia, Brevard, Indian River, St. Lucie and Martin Counties) accounted for 3.2 million pound of the commercial harvest, which had a value of $1.8 million. This ranks the sheepshead thirty-first in in commercial value to IRL counties, and twentieth in pounds harvested.

Figure 1 below shows the dollar value of the sheepshead commercial fishery to IRL counties by year. The fishery ranged in value from a high of $175,857 in 1991, to a low of $78,259 in 1988. Martin County accounted for 32.5% of the catch, followed by Brevard (24.8%), St. Lucie (17.4%),Volusia (15.7%) and Indian River (9.6%) Counties.



Figure 1.  Annual dollar value of the commercial catch of sheepshead to the 5-county area of the Indian River Lagoon. 



Figure 2.  Total sheepshead dollar value and percentage by county for the years 1987 - 2001.



Table 1.  Total dollar value of IRL sheepshead, Archosargus probatocephalus, between 1987 - 2001.



Table 2.  By-county annual and cumulative percentages of the sheepshead harvest for the years 1987-2001.



Table 3.  By-county cumulative dollar value and percentage of total for the sheepshead harvest from 1987 - 2001. 


Recreational Fishery:
Sheepshead are significantly more important as a recreational species than a commercial species, with approximately 90-95% of the annual statewide catch taken by recreational anglers (Murphy 2000). Throughout the 1990s, the average annual catch by recreational anglers on the Atlantic coast averaged approximately 1.2 million fish. However, this figure has dropped to an average of 432,000 per year since 1996 (Murphy 2000), with a similar trend noted on Florida's west coast.

Within the 5-county area of the Indian River Lagoon, sheepshead are highly prized gamefishes. Recreational anglers captured 1.9 million spotted seatrout between 1997 - 2004 (Table 4, Figure 3), not counting those fishes that were caught and released. The bulk of the recreational catch (47.0%) was taken from inland waters outside of the IRL. Approximately 28.6% of the recreational catch was harvested from IRL waters. Anglers fishing to 3 miles offshore accounted for 21.9% of the harvest, while those fishing up to 200 miles offshore accounted for only 1.8% of the total.




Figure 3.  Survey data for the sheepshead recreational fishery showing the number of fishes harvested in East Florida waters from 1997 - 2004.



Figure 4.  Summary of the sheepshead recreational harvest and percentage of total by area from 1997 - 2004.



Table 4.  Summary data for recreational fishery in Eastern Florida waters for the sheepshead, Archosargus probatocephalus, from 1997 - 2004.   Data provided by National Marine Fisheries Service, Fisheries Statistics Division, NOAA.



Table 5.  By-county annual and cumulative percentages of the sheepshead harvest for the years 1997 - 2001.  Data provided by National Marine Fisheries Service, Fisheries Statistics Division, NOAA.



Table 6.  Summary of the sheepshead recreational harvest and percentage of total fish captured in each area from 1997 - 2004.  Data provided by National Marine Fisheries Service, Fisheries Statistics Division, NOAA.

 

VII.  REFERENCES 

Beckman, D.W., A.L. Stanley, J.H. Render, C.A. Wilson. 1991. Age and growth-rate estimating of sheepshead Archosargus probatocephalus in Louisiana waters using otoliths. Fish.Bull., U.S. 89:1-8.

Gilhen, J., C. G. Gruchy, and D. E. McAllister. 1976. The sheepshead, Archosargus probatocephalus, and the feather blenny, Hypsoblennius hentzi, two additions to the Canadianantic ichthyofauna. Can. Field Nat. 90:42-46.

Hildebrand, S. F., and W. C. Schroeder. 1927. Fishes of Chesapeake Bay. Bull. U.S. Bur. Fish. 43(1): 366 pp.

Hildebrand, S.F. and L.E. Cable. 1938. Further notes on the development and life history of some teleosts at Beaufort, N.C. Bulletin of the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries 48:505-642.

Hoese, H. D., and R. H. Moore. 1977. Fishes of the Gulf of Mexico: Texas, Louisiana, and adjacent waters. Texas A&M University Press, College Station. 327 pp.

Jennings, C.A. 1985. Species profiles: life histories and environmental requirements of coastal fishes and invertebrates (Gulf of Mexico) - Sheepshead. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Biological Reports 82(11.29). U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, TR EL-82-4. 10 pp.

Johnson, D.G. 1978. Development of fishes in the mid-Atlantic Bight: an atlas of egg, larval, and juvenile stages. Vol. 4. Carangidae through Ephippidae. U.S. Fish Wildl. Serv. FWS/OBS- 78/12. 311 pp.

Kelly, J. R. 1965. A taxonomic survey of the fishes of Delta National Wildlife Refuge with emphasis upon distribution and abundance. M.S. Thesis. Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge. 133 pp.

Mook, D. 1977. Larval and osteological development of the sheepshead Archosargus probatocephalus (Pisces:Sparidae). Copeia 19(1):126-133.

Music, J.L., Jr. and J.M. Pafford. 1984. Population dynamics and life history aspects of major marine sportfishes in Georgia's coastal waters. Ga. Dept. Nat. Res., Coastal Res. Div., Coastal Fish Section, Final Report. Study VI Federal Aid Project F-31.

Norris, D. E., and R. M. Overstreet. 1975. Thynnascaris reliquens N. and T. habena (Linton I900) (Nematoda:Asoidea) from fishes in the northern Gulf of Mexico and eastern U.S. seaboard. J. Parasitol. 61(2):330-336.

Odum, W.E. and E.J. Heald. 1972. Trophic analysis of an estuarine mangrove community. Bull. Mar. Sci. 22(3):671-738.

Odum, W. E., C. C. McIvor, and T. J. Smith III. 1982. The ecology of the mangroves of south Florida: a community profile. U.S. Fish Wildl. Serv. FWS/OBS-81/24. 144 PP.

Ogburn, M.V. 1984. Feeding ecology and the role of algae in the diet of sheepshead Archosargus probatocephalus (Pisces: Sparidae) on two North Carolina jetties. M.S. Thesis, University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

Overstreet, R. M. 1978. Marine maladies? Worms, germs, and other symbionts from the northern Gulf of Mexico. Miss.-Ala. Publ. Ocean Springs, Miss. MASGP- 78-021. 140 pp.

Overstreet, R. M., and H. D. Howse. 1977. Some parasites and diseases of estuarine fishes in polluted habitats of Mississippi. Annu. N.Y. Acad. Sci. 298:427-426.

Parsons, G.R. and K.M. Peters. 1989. Age determination of larval and juvenile sheepshead, Archosargus probatocephalus. Fish. Bull., U.S. 87:985-988.

Perret, W. S. 1971. Cooperative Gulf of Mexico estuarine inventory study. Phase 4, Biology. Pages 31-69. La. Wildl. Fish. Comm. 171 pp.

Perret, W. S., and C. W. Caillouet, Jr. 1974. Abundance and size of fishes taken by trawling in Vermilion Bay, Louisiana. Bull. Mar. Sci. 24(10):52-74.

Randall, J.E., B. Bishop, and R. Vergaro. 1978. SPARID Archo. In: E. Fischer, ed., FAO species identification sheets for fisheries purposes. West Central Atlantic (fishing area 31). 5:12. Food and Agricultural Organization, U.N., Rome, Italy.

Render, J.H. and C.A. Wilson. 1992. Reproductive biology of sheepshead in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Unpublished manuscript, Coastal Fisheries Institute, Center for Coastal Energy and
Environmental Resources, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70803-7503.

Schwartz, F.J. 1990. Length-weight, age and growth, and landings observations for sheepshead Archosargus probatocephalus from North Carolina. Fish. Bull., U.S. 88:829-832.

Sedberry, G.R. 1987. Feeding habits of sheepshead, Archosargus probatocephalus, in inshore reef habitats of the southeastern continental shelf. Northeast Gulf Science 9:29-37.

Springer, V.G. and K.D. Woodburn. 1960. An ecological study of the fishes of the Tampa Bay area. Fla. Board Conserv. Mar. Lab. Prof. Pap. Ser. 1:1-104.

Tucker. J.W., Jr. 1987. Sheepshead culture and preliminary evaluation for farming. Progressive Fish-Culturist 49:224-228.

Tucker, J.W., Jr. and S.R. Alshuth. 1997. Development of laboratory-reared sheepshead, Archosargus probatocephalus (Pisces: Sparidae). Fish. Bull., U.S. 95:399-401.


 


 

Report by:  K. Hill, Smithsonian Marine Station
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Page last updated: September 10,  2005