Fish of the Week – Bluefish

March 5, 2013 at 10:51 AM | Posted in fish | Leave a comment
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The bluefish (Pomatomus saltatrix) is the only extant species of the Pomatomidae family. It is a marine pelagic fish found around the

Large bluefish, about 20 pounds

Large bluefish, about 20 pounds

world in temperate and sub-tropical waters, except for the Northern Pacific Ocean. Bluefish are known as tailor in Australia, shad on the east coast of South Africa, elf on the west coast, lüfer in Turkey, and similarly, луфарь/lufar in Russian. Other common names are blue, chopper, and anchoa. It is good eating and a popular gamefish.
The bluefish is a moderately proportioned fish, with a broad, forked tail. The spiny first dorsal fin is normally folded back in a groove, as are its pectoral fins. Coloration is a grayish blue-green dorsally, fading to white on the lower sides and belly. Its single row of teeth in each jaw are uniform in size, knife-edged and sharp. Bluefish commonly range in size from seven-inch (18-cm) “snappers” to much larger, sometimes weighing as much as 40 pounds (18 kg), though fish heavier than 20 pounds (9 kg) are exceptional.

 

Bluefish are widely distributed around the world in tropical and subtropical waters. They are found in pelagic waters on much of the continental shelves along eastern America (though not between south Florida and northern South America), Africa, the Mediterranean and Black Seas (and during migration in between), Southeast Asia and Australia. They are found in a variety of coastal habitats: above the continental shelf, in energetic waters near surf beaches or by rock headlands. They also enter estuaries and inhabit brackish waters. Periodically, they leave the coasts and migrate in schools through open waters.
Along the U.S. east coast, bluefish are found off Florida in the winter months. By April, they have disappeared, heading north. By June, they may be found off Massachusetts; in years of high abundance, stragglers may be found as far north as Nova Scotia. By October, they leave New England waters, heading south (whereas some Bluefish, perhaps less migratory, are present in the Gulf of Mexico throughout the year). In a similar pattern overall, the economically significant population that spawns in Europe’s Black Sea migrates South through Istanbul (Bosphorus, Sea of Marmara, Dardanelles, Aegean Sea) and on toward Turkey’s Mediterranean coast in the autumn for the cold season. Along the South African coast and environs, movement patterns are roughly in parallel.

 

Adult bluefish are typically between 20 and 60 cm long, with a maximum reported size of 120 cm and 14 kilograms. They reproduce during spring and summer, and can live for up to 9 years. Bluefish fry are zooplankton, and are largely at the mercy of currents. Spent bluefish have been found off east central Florida, migrating north. As with most marine fish, their spawning habits are not well known. In the western side of the North Atlantic, at least two populations occur, separated by Cape Hatteras in North Carolina. The Gulf Stream can carry fry spawned to the south of Cape Hatteras to the north, and eddies can spin off, carrying them into populations found off the coast of the mid-Atlantic, and the New England states.

 

Adult bluefish are strong and aggressive, and live in loose groups. They are fast swimmers which prey on schools of forage fish, and continue attacking them in feeding frenzies even after they appear to have eaten their fill. Depending on area and season, they favor menhaden and other sardine-like fish (Clupeidae), jacks (Scombridae), weakfish (Sciaenidae), grunts (Haemulidae), striped anchovies (Engraulidae), shrimp and squid. They are cannibalistic and can destroy their own young. Bluefish sometimes chase bait through the surf zone, attacking schools in very shallow water, churning the water like a washing machine. This behavior is sometimes referred to as a “bluefish blitz”.
In turn, bluefish are preyed upon by larger predators at all stages of their life cycle. As juveniles, they fall victim to a wide variety of oceanic predators, including striped bass, larger bluefish, fluke (summer flounder), weakfish, tuna, sharks, rays, and dolphins. As adults, bluefish are taken by tuna, sharks, billfish, seals, sea lions, dolphins, porpoises, and many other species.
Bluefish should be handled with caution due to their ability to snap at unwary hands. Fishermen have been severely bitten, and it can help to wear gloves. It a not good idea to wade or swim among feeding bluefish schools. In July 2006, a seven-year-old girl was attacked on a beach, near the Spanish town of Alicante, allegedly by a bluefish.

 

In the U.S., bluefish are landed primarily in recreational fisheries, but important commercial fisheries also exist in temperate and

Pan frying the fillets

Pan frying the fillets

subtropical waters. Bluefish population abundance is typically cyclical, with abundance varying widely over a span of ten years or more.

 

Bluefish is a highly sought-after sportfish (and restaurant fish in some places) that had been widely overfished across the world’s fisheries of this species. Restrictions set forth by management organizations have somewhat helped the species’ population stabilize. In the U.S., specifically along the seaboard of the middle Atlantic states, bluefish were at unhealthy levels in the late 1990s, but management resulted in this stocks being fully rebuilt by 2009 In other parts of the world, public awareness efforts like Bluefish festivals, combined with catch limits, may be having positive effects in reducing the stress on the regional stocks. Some of these efforts are regionally controversial.

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