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Bluefish

Pomatomus saltatrix

Bluefish

Also Known As

  • Tailor
  • Snapper
  • Baby blues
  • Choppers
  • Elfs

U.S. wild-caught bluefish is a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations.

Population

Significantly below target population levels. The council has 2 years from the time it is notified of status to develop a rebuilding plan.

Fishing Rate

At recommended level.

Habitat Impacts

Recreational fishermen use hook-and-line gear that has minimal impacts on habitat. Commercial fishermen use a variety of gears including trawls, gillnets, haul seines, and pound nets, and the impacts vary by gear type.

Bycatch

Regulations are in place to minimize bycatch.

  • Availability

    Fresh year-round, but varies by area. Not available frozen. Buy in season, and plan to cook within a day of purchase.

  • Source

    U.S. wild-caught from Massachusetts to Florida.

  • Taste

    Rich, full flavor. The larger the fish, the more pronounced the taste. A strong-flavored, dark strip of meat on the fillet may be removed before cooking.

  • Texture

    Coarse, moist meat with edible skin.

  • Color

    The meat of raw bluefish is light putty to blue-gray in color with a brownish tinge. It becomes lighter when cooked.

  • Health Benefits

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

The U.S. Fishery

Fishery Management

Harvest

  • Commercial landings in 2018 totaled approximately 1,100 metric tons and were valued at more than $2.2 million.
  • Recreational harvest in 2018 was estimated at over  6,100metric tons.
  • Florida, North Carolina, and New Jersey account for the largest percentage of the recreational bluefish harvest.
  • Peak recreational harvest occurs from May through October with over 70 percent of the catch in July and August.
  • Gear types, habitat impacts, and bycatch:
    • Recreational fishermen use hook-and-line gear that has minimal impacts on habitat.
    • Commercial fishermen use a variety of gears including trawls, gillnets, haul seines, and pound nets, and the impacts vary by gear type.
    • Gillnets can occasionally entangle marine mammals. However, the bluefish fishery uses nets with small mesh and sinking gillnets to reduce bycatch.

The Science

Population Status

  • According to the 2019 stock assessment, bluefish are overfished and not subject to overfishing.
  • The current bluefish stock assessment uses landings data from the commercial and recreational fisheries, NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s autumn bottom trawl survey, and numerous state surveys conducted along the East Coast.

Location

  • Along the East Coast from Maine to eastern Florida.

Habitat

  • Bluefish live in temperate and tropical coastal oceans around the world, except in the eastern Pacific.
  • They gather by size in schools that can cover tens of square miles of ocean, equivalent to 10,000 football fields.
  • Bluefish 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.
  • Females release their eggs in the open ocean.
  • Larvae develop into juveniles near the surface in continental shelf waters and eventually move to estuarine and nearshore shelf habitats.
  • Juveniles prefer sandy ocean bottoms but will also inhabit mud, silt, or clay ocean bottoms or vegetated areas.
  • Adults live in both inshore and offshore areas and favor warmer water.

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.

Biology

  • Bluefish live up to 12 years.
  • They grow fast, up to 31 pounds and 39 inches.
  • They are 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.
  • They 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 eat squid and fish, particularly menhaden and smaller fish such as silversides.
  • Sharks, tunas, and billfishes are typically the only fish predators large and fast enough to prey on adult bluefish.
  • Bluefish make up a major part of the diet of shortfin mako sharks and are also very important in the diets of swordfish.
  • Oceanic birds prey on juvenile bluefish.

Research

  • 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, 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.
  • The coast-wide sampling program resulted in a significant increase in the amount of age-length keys and catch-at-age data that was used in the 2015 benchmark assessment.
  • The bluefish management plan allows managers to set aside a small percentage of the annual catch limit for research. Proceeds from the sale of this set-aside catch are used to fund research on the bluefish resource and fishery.

Last updated: 03/25/2020