Bluefish

Bluefish

Pomatomus saltatrix

ALSO KNOWN AS:

    Tailor, Snapper, Baby blues, Choppers, Elfs

SOURCE:

    U.S. wild-caught from Massachusetts to Florida
 

STATUS

  • POPULATION
  • FISHING RATE
  • HABITAT IMPACTS
  • BYCATCH
 

Click the icons to learn more about each criteria

 
 

OVERVIEW

Woman holding Bluefish

Bluefish have a prominent jaw, with sharp, compressed teeth.

LAUNCH GALLERY

In the late 1970s, tuna purse seiners took an interest in commercially harvesting bluefish for developing markets in Africa and South America. Bluefish is one of the most popular recreational species on the East Coast, so recreational fishermen were a bit apprehensive about a growing commercial fishery for one of their favorite fish. As commercial harvest peaked in the early 1980s, concerned recreational fishermen petitioned the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (council) to develop a management plan for bluefish.

In 1984, the council developed a plan in cooperation with NOAA Fisheries, the New England and South Atlantic Councils, and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. The plan was rejected but concern for the resource remained as the population was declining. A new management plan was approved in 1990, but the population still fell to a low in 1996.

A coast-wide, collaborative research group began studying the dynamics of the coastal bluefish population to help aid management of this important species. Managers implemented a rebuilding plan for the stock in 2001, including a number of harvest restrictions designed to rebuild the stock by 2010. Thanks to these measures and the hard work of scientists and fishermen, the bluefish population gradually increased and was determined to have been rebuilt by 2007 - 3 years ahead of schedule. The Mid-Atlantic Council and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission continue to cooperatively manage bluefish to maintain its rebuilt status.

Looking Ahead

Although the bluefish stock has been rebuilt and is managed sustainably, several key scientific gaps need to be addressed to better inform management. For example, more research is needed on the relationship between the age and length of bluefish, how much bluefish is caught and discarded in the commercial fisheries for bluefish and other species and the resulting impacts, and general population trends. There is also uncertainty in the methods used by scientists to monitor bluefish abundance and in estimating recreational catch along the Atlantic coast. In 2012, managers established a coast-wide sampling program designed to improve the quantity and quality of information used in future bluefish stock assessments.

 
 
 

LOCATION & HABITAT

Bluefish live in temperate and tropical coastal oceans around the world, except in the eastern Pacific. On the East Coast, bluefish are found from Maine to eastern Florida. Bluefish gather together by size in schools that can cover tens of square miles of ocean, equivalent to 10,000 football fields. They migrate seasonally, moving north in spring and summer as water temperatures rise and then south in autumn and winter to waters in the South Atlantic Bight.

Bluefish release their eggs in the open ocean. Once hatched, larvae develop into juveniles near the surface in continental shelf waters and eventually move to estuarine and nearshore shelf habitats. Juveniles prefer sandy bottoms but will also inhabit mud, silt, or clay bottoms or vegetated areas. Adults live in both inshore and offshore areas and favor warmer water.

 
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BIOLOGY

Bluefish have a moderately long life, up to 14 years. They grow fast, up to 31 pounds and 39 inches. They’re able to reproduce at age 2, when they’re 15 to 20 inches in length. Depending on their size, females can have between 400,000 and 2 million eggs. Bluefish spawn multiple times in spring and summer.

Bluefish exhibit feeding behavior called the “bluefish blitz,” where large schools of big fish attack bait fish near the surface, churning the water like a washing machine. They feed voraciously on their prey, eating almost anything they can catch and swallow. Bluefish have razor-sharp teeth and shearing jaws that allow them to ingest large parts, increasing the maximum size of the prey they can eat. They like to eat squid and fish, particularly menhaden and smaller fish such as silversides.

Sharks, tunas, and billfishes are typically the only predators large and fast enough to prey on adult bluefish. Bluefish make up a major part of the diet of shortfin mako shark and are also very important in the diets of swordfish. Oceanic birds prey on juvenile bluefish.

 
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PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION

Bluefish are blue-green on the back and silvery on the sides and belly. They have a prominent jaw, with sharp, compressed teeth.

 
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OVERVIEW

The current bluefish stock assessment uses landings data from both the commercial and recreational fisheries as well as data from the NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s autumn bottom trawl survey, and numerous surveys conducted by states along the East Coast. 

 
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POPULATION STATUS

According to the latest assessment update (2013), bluefish is not considered overfished, and overfishing is not occurring. 

 
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ADDITIONAL RESEARCH

The bluefish management plan allows managers to set aside a small percentage of the annual catch for research. Proceeds from the sale of this set-aside catch are used to fund research on the bluefish resource and fishery.

 
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Harvesting Bluefish

Bluefish support recreational and commercial fisheries along the entire Atlantic coast. The recreational sector is most popular, accounting for 70 percent of the total catch by weight in the past 20 years.

Gillnets are the principal gear used in the commercial sector and account for approximately 40 percent of commercial landings. Commercial fishermen also use hook and line gear and trawls to harvest bluefish. There are also small, localized fisheries—such as the beach seine fishery that operates along the Outer Banks of North Carolina—that harvest bluefish along with other species. Recreational fishermen mainly use rod and reel gear to catch bluefish.

Fisheries for bluefish are seasonal because of the species’ migration patterns. During the summer, they’re found in waters from Maine to Cape Hatteras. In winter they tend to be found offshore between Cape Hatteras and Florida.

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Management

Who’s in charge?The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission develop fishery regulations for bluefish. NOAA Fisheries implements and enforces these regulations.

Current managment: Bluefish Fishery Management Plan

  • Commercial fishermen must have a permit to catch and sell bluefish.
  • Managers set an annual quota for catch, 17 percent of which is allocated to commercial fisheries and 83 percent to recreational fisheries. The commercial quota is divided into state-specific quotas. Unused recreational quota can be re-allocated to commercial fisheries.
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Annual Harvest

Over the past decade, North Carolina, New York, and New Jersey have accounted for the largest percentage of the commercial bluefish harvest. Commercial landings in 2012 were 2,264 metric tons.

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Economy

Bluefish catch is not exported; it is sold fresh, in local, domestic markets. The value of the commercial landings in 2012 was $3.234 million.

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Recreational

The recreational catch of bluefish, which is almost exclusively from rod and reel gear, accounts for the majority of landings. Recreational harvest in 2012 was more than 5.6 million fish. Recreational fishermen fish for bluefish near inlets, shoals, and rips that often hold large schools of bait attracting bluefish into a feeding frenzy. The excitement involved in fishing for these aggressive fighters makes them the second most harvested species in the Mid-Atlantic, behind striped bass. Recreational fishermen can catch and keep 15 bluefish per person per day.

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OVERVIEW

The United States supplies the majority of bluefish on the market. Bluefish is an excellent fish to eat and is marketed mostly fresh or smoked. The meat of raw bluefish is light putty to blue-gray in color with a brownish tinge. It becomes lighter when cooked. A strong-flavored, dark strip of meat on the fillet may be removed before cooking.

Bluefish has a rich, full flavor and coarse, moist meat with edible skin. The larger the fish, the more pronounced the taste - bluefish prey on menhaden, a small, oil-rich fish that gives older, larger bluefish their strong flavor. Younger bluefish are sometimes referred to as “snappers.” They eat crustaceans, resulting in sweeter and milder flesh.

As in all extremely active predators, the digestive enzymes of bluefish are powerful and their meat deteriorates rapidly if not immediately iced, and it doesn’t freeze well. That’s why the fish is seldom seen far from where it’s caught (unless flown in by a restaurant). So buy in season, and plan to cook bluefish within a day of purchase.

 
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SEASONAL AVAILABILITY

Fresh year-round, but varies by area; not available frozen

 
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NUTRITION

Bluefish are an excellent source of selenium, niacin, and vitamin B12, and a good source of magnesium and potassium. As apex predators, bluefish can accumulate comparatively high levels of PCB contaminants. Limited consumption has been recommended in some states.

Servings 1
Serving Weight 100 g
Calories 124
Protein 20.04 g
Fat, total 4.24 g
Saturated fatty acids, total 0.915 g
Carbohydrate 0 g
Sugars, total 0 g
Fiber, total dietary 0 g
Cholesterol 59 mg
Selenium 36.5 mcg
Sodium 60 mcg

Bluefish Table of Nutrition

 
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