The Atlantic croaker is a member of the Sciaenidae family (drum and croaker) and one of the most frequently caught estuarine and near-shore marine fish along the eastern coast of the United States. The common name “croaker” is derived from the voluntary deep croaking noises made when the fish raps a muscle against its swim bladder.
croaker, crocus, golden cracker, hardhead, king billy;
Portuguese: corvina; Spanish: corbina, corvinón brasileño.
Identification. The Atlantic croaker has a small, elongated body with a short, high first dorsal fin and a long, low second dorsal fin. There are 6 to 10 tiny barbels on the chin. The middle rays of the caudal fins are longer than those above and below, creating a wedgelike appearance. Its coloring is greenish above and white below, with brownishblack spots and a silver iridescence covering the body. There are dark, wavy lines on the sides. During spawning, the Atlantic croaker takes on a bronze hue (thus the nickname “golden cracker”), and its pelvic fins turn yellow.
Size/Age. The average fish is 12 inches long and weighs 11⁄2 pounds, although the species may grow to 20 inches. The all-tackle record weighed 5 pounds, 8 ounces. It can live up to 5 years.
Life history/Behavior. Spawning occurs at sea in the winter and the spring (the peak month is November), when the Atlantic croaker migrates to deeper, warmer water. In the southerly range, it is assumed that all croaker spawn in the open Gulf of Mexico, near the mouths of various passes that lead into shallow bays and lagoons. Adults migrate in schools or small groups to the bays in the spring and leave the marsh in the fall to enter deep gulf waters.
Food and feeding habits. Adult croaker feed on detritus, larger invertebrates, and fish. Sensory barbels allow the Atlantic croaker to find food on the bottom.
Distribution. The Atlantic croaker is found along the Atlantic coast from Cape Cod to the Bay of Campeche. While it is abundant off the entire coast of the Gulf of Mexico, the croaker periodically becomes most common in Louisiana and Mississippi waters.
Habitat. The Atlantic croaker is a bottom-dwelling, estuarine-dependent fish that becomes oceanic during spawning. It prefers mud, sand, and shell bottoms; areas around rocks; waters
near jetties, piers, and bridges; and surf. Juveniles inhabit both open and vegetated
shallow marsh areas. Adult croaker can occupy a wide range of salinities, from 20 to 75 parts per thousand, and temperatures of 50° to 96°F. Large fish are not found at temperatures below
50°F. Larvae and juveniles, however, are more tolerant of lower temperatures.