Blues in the Bay: All About Bluefish
Nickname: Blues, snapper blues, skipjack
Scientific name: Pomatomus saltatrix
Habitat: Along the shoreline to deep water; juveniles near shore
Migration: Bluefish found in Narragansett Bay are part of a larger population that migrates seasonally along the Atlantic coast from Maine, in the summer months, to Florida, in the winter. Bluefish frequent the Bay in early summer, departing to the south by late November.
Features: The bluefish has a distinct greenish-blue color with silver sides and a characteristic dark spot behind its pectoral fin. The long, stout, torpedo-like body and forked tail make it a fast, hydrodynamic, efficient swimmer that can travel long distances. It is a voracious predator with a large mouth and strong, sharp, triangular teeth – watch your fingers! It feeds opportunistically on fish, squid, crabs, lobsters and shrimp. Using a slashing attack style, schools of bluefish often kill more prey than they can eat. Over 70 species of finfish, including alewives, butterfish, silversides and juvenile bluefish, have been identified in bluefish stomach contents.
During its first few years, the bluefish feeds intensely and grows rapidly. Young bluefish, called snappers or skipjacks, enter the Bay in June as small as two inches in length. They then grow up to 10 inches by the time they leave in late September. Juveniles seek protected water, like estuaries and salt ponds, for feeding and safety from predators. While bluefish typically grow to weigh about 25 pounds, and to be 30 inches long, they can reach lengths of up to 45 inches.
Relationship to People: Bluefish often feed on large schools of baitfish, creating a disturbance known as “blitzing” in the water. In an attempt to escape, small fish leap into the air while the bluefish churns up the water with its tail and snapping jaws. During these feeding frenzies, or during the bluefish run, the water actually looks like it is boiling.
Due to the strong fight it puts up, the bluefish is a favorite catch of recreational fishers along the Atlantic coast. Many also enjoy the flavor of the oily muscle. Although 80-90% of caught bluefish have been taken recreationally over the past 10 years, the bluefish is also an important commercial fish species. Fishing for skipjacks is a popular sport in Rhode Island during the summer and fall. Current regulations allow recreational fishermen up to three fish/person/day, regardless of fish size or maturity. The three fish limit was imposed as part of a rebuilding plan after the most recent stock assessment indicated that the species is overfished.