Atlantic Croaker

Atlantic Croaker
Micropogonias undulatus
(A.K.A. Hardhead)


Key Distinguishing Markings:

  • Chin with 3-5 pairs of small barbells and 5 pores.
  • Caudal fin double concave.
  • Body is elongate and somewhat compressed.
  • Dorsal fin deeply notched, with 10 spines in the anterior portion and 1 spine and 26-30 soft rays in the posterior portion.
  • Upper dorsal side with numerous brassy spots that from wavy bars (less distinct in large individuals).

Size:

  • Maximum adult size is 50 centimeters total length (1.6 feet) in the Chesapeake Bay area.
  • Atlantic croaker up to age 13 have been sampled from Maryland waters.

Distribution:

  • Found in the western Atlantic from Massachusetts to Florida and throughout the Gulf of Mexico.
  • This species is uncommon north of New Jersey.

Habitat:

  • Adults found on mud, sand and shell bottoms.
  • In Maryland, adult croaker move up the Chesapeake Bay and coastal estuaries during spring and back toward the ocean in fall.
  • Juveniles are found in estuarine and coastal waters from shallow shoals to moderate depths.
  • Found in the Chesapeake Bay during spring and summer, mostly concentrated midway up estuary at about 18 ppt salinity.

Food Preference:

  • Atlantic croaker are bottom feeders that consume polychaete worms, mollusks, a variety of small crustaceans, and occasionally small fishes.

Spawning:

  • First spawning occurs at age 2-3 in continental shelf waters from July through February, with peak spawning from August through October in the Chesapeake Bay area.

Fishing Tips:

  • The recreational season for catching Atlantic croaker is open year round.
  • Currently, a 9 inch size limit and 25 fish/person/day creel limit is permitted.
  • For current recreational and commercial size and creel limits, see Maryland's updated regulation page.
  • Croaker are most commonly caught bottom fishing with bloodworms, squid strips, peeler crab or soft crab.

Fun Fact:

  • Atlantic croaker like the Black drum get their common name from a large and elaborate swim bladder that, by using special muscles, can resonate to produce croaking or drumming sounds.

Family: Sciaenidae (drums and croakers)

Order: Perciformes (perch-likes)

Class: Actinopterygii (ray-finned fishes)

For more information on Atlantic croaker and their management, please check the ASMFC website www.ASMFC.org (look for Atlantic croaker in the Managed Species section) or contact Harry Rickabaugh.

Illustration by Diane Rome Peebles
Provided by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission,
Division of Marine Fisheries Management


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