Tailor, Snapper, Baby blues, Choppers, Elfs
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.
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.
Bluefish are blue-green on the back and silvery on the sides and belly. They have a pointed snout and a prominent jaw, with sharp, compressed teeth.
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.
The recreational catch of bluefish, which is almost exclusively from rod and reel gear, accounts for the majority of landings. 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.