Bluefish

Bluefish
Pomatomus saltatrix
(A.K.A. - Blue, Snapper, Skipjack)


Key Distinguishing Markings:

  • Bluefish get their name from their color. The fish are a greenish blue with silvery sides and a white belly.
  • Bluefish have a pointed snout and large mouth.
  • The lower jaw of a bluefish sticks out past the upper jaw.
  • Bluefish have a sturdy compressed body, a large head, and pointed, razor sharp triangular teeth.
  • Note the black blotch at base of pectoral fin.
  • Bluefish are the only members of the family, Pomatomidae, and are closely related to jacks, pompanos, and roosterfish.

Size:

  • Bluefish can live to be 12 years old and can reach 40 inches in length.
  • Bluefish in the Chesapeake Bay, however, average about 12 inches in length.

Distribution:

  • Bluefish are found throughout the world and are a migratory species that range from Nova Scotia to Florida off the Atlantic coast and can be found in the Gulf of Mexico from Florida to Texas.
  • Along the east coast, bluefish migrate northward in the spring and summer and southward in the fall and winter.
  • During the summer, bluefish are concentrated from Maine to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina and during the winter, most tend to be offshore and south between Cape Hatteras and Florida.

Habitat:

  • There are bluefish in all the world's oceans.
  • They can be found throughout the Chesapeake Bay, its tributaries and in the Atlantic Ocean and coastal bays.

Food Preference:

  • Bluefish are voracious predators and sight feeders; they will strike at almost any object in the water column.
  • Consequently, they feed on a variety of fish and invertebrates, including butterfish, menhaden, herring, sand lances, silversides, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, weakfish, spotted seatrout, croaker, spot and squid.
  • In Chesapeake Bay and other estuarine habitats, bluefish primarily feed on bay anchovies, white perch, American shad, alewife and blueback herring, and striped bass.

Spawning:

  • Most juvenile bluefish spawned in the south during the summer in the mid-Atlantic and in the fall spring in the South Atlantic remain in the coastal waters, but some summer-spawned fish do enter the lower Bay for a couple of months before they return to the coast in the fall and join the adults in their move southward.
  • Most bluefish mature by age 2 (approximately 14 inches), and females can produce from 900,000 to 4,500,000 eggs.
  • Spawning and larval development takes place offshore in the South Atlantic (North Carolina to Florida) in the spring and to a lesser extent in the summer and fall, and in the mid-Atlantic during the summer. In Maryland, peak spawning occurs offshore in July.
  • After they spawn, bluefish move inshore with smaller fish generally entering Chesapeake and Delaware Bay and larger ones moving northward.
  • Juvenile bluefish grow quickly and by late fall, there are usually two size groups along the mid-Atlantic and New England coasts.
  • Those fish that were spawned in the south during the spring are 6-8 inches, whereas those spawned in the summer are 2-4 inches.
  • Most juvenile bluefish spawned during the summer in the mid-Atlantic and in the spring in the South Atlantic remain in coastal waters, but some summer-spawned fish do enter the lower Bay for a couple of months before they return to the coast in the fall and join the adults in their move southward.

Fishing Tips:

  • For current recreational size and creel limits, see Maryland's updated regulation page.
  • Peak abundance of bluefish near the mouth of Chesapeake Bay occurs in April-July and again in October-November.
  • Bluefish are well know to anglers as an incredible fighter with tremendous biting power.
  • They are a highly prized fish and the most sought-after species among recreational fishermen during May through October in Chesapeake Bay.
  • In the Bay, fishermen catch bluefish by trolling, or casting artificial lures. Cut baits are good for catching bluefish.
  • On the beaches near Ocean City, people surf fish for bluefish in the fall.
  • Approximately 90% of the bluefish harvested in Maryland are caught by sport fishermen.
  • Commercially, most Bluefish harvested in the bay are caught in pound nets, while those harvested on the coast are caught in trawls and gill nets.
  • Since 1995, commercial bluefish fisheries have been managed under a coastal quota system.

Fun Fact:

  • Bluefish are a pelagic schooling species that primarily travel in groups of like-sized fish.
  • Adult fish migrate like birds, traveling north in the spring and south in the fall and winter.
  • Known as the "marine piranha" because of its aggressive feeding habits. Bluefish have been known to strike at anything.

  • Bluefish are so voracious they will even kill prey they do not eat and have occasionally bitten human swimmers who were unfortunate enough to encounter a feeding school.
  • Anglers often use wire leaders to prevent the sharp teeth of the bluefish from cutting their lines.

Family: Pomatomidae (Bluefishes)

Order: Perciformes (perch-likes)

Class: Actinopterygii (ray-finned fishes)

For information concerning bluefish and their management, please contact Eric Durell.

Illustration by Diane Rome Peebles
Provided by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission,
Division of Marine Fisheries Management


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