Two-Hundred Year Record of Increasing Growith Rates for Ocean Quahogs (Arctica islandica) From the Northwestern Atlantic Ocean

Document Type


Publication Date



Coastal Sciences, Gulf Coast Research Laboratory


Ocean quahogs [Arctica islandica (Linnaeus, 1769)] are the longest-lived, non-colonial animal known today, with a maximum life spanexceeding 500 years. Ocean quahogs are a commercially important bivalve, inhabiting the continental shelf of the North Atlantic basin. We examined growth rates of ocean quahogs that were fully recruited to the commercial fishery (>80-mm shell length) from four sites covering the range of the stock along the east coast of the U.S. through analysis of annual growth lines in the hinge plate. Both geographic and temporal differences (on a scale of decadal or longer) in growth rates exist throughout the range of the stock. The age at which animals reached 60, 80, and 90 mm decreased significantly, and average growth rates to 60, 80, and 90 mm increased significantly with birth year at a New Jersey and a Long Island site, both located in the southwestern portion of the stock, since the late 1700s/early 1800s, likely in response to increasing bottom water temperatures. That is, growth rates vary temporally with birth date at the southwestern sites, with younger animals growing at a much faster rate in recent decades than those born many decades previously, whereas at the northern sites off southern New England and on Georges Bank, changes in growth rates through time are limited to older adult animals or absent altogether. Thus, at the southern portion of the range, variation in growth rate over time exists in all phases of ocean quahog life, whereas on Georges Bank, little evidence exists for any differential in growth rate over the last ~200 years. The fact that ocean quahogs record the rise in ocean temperatures after the Little Ice Age in the Mid-Atlantic Bight southeast of southern New England, yet demonstrate little evidence of such a rise in the southern New England and Georges Bank region, would suggest a differential response of ocean circulation and its control of bottom water temperature between the northern and southern portions of the Mid-Atlantic Bight over the last 200+ years.

Publication Title

Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology



First Page


Last Page