Did You Know?

Local Summer Fisheries – Bluefish

Bluefish migrate up the Atlantic coast to New England waters in the summer (Photo Credit: chesapeakebay.net)

Madi Gamble is the Ocean Conservation intern this summer at CLF.  She grew up fishing in Marblehead, MA and is a rising senior at Dartmouth College, where she studies biology and environmental science.

One of the most popular seasonal fish in New England, bluefish arrive in the Gulf of Maine in July.  Following warming waters northward from their winter habitat in the mid-Atlantic, these predatory fish travel in large schools famous for their feeding frenzies, which are often termed “the bluefish blitz” for the way they make the water boil.  While juveniles feed on crustaceans, adult blues are opportunistic feeders that eat mainly smaller, schooling forage fish such as menhaden, herring, mackerel, squid, and alewives.  Often they will drive schools of their prey into shore where they are easier to catch in shallow water.  The small commercial bluefish fishery, which sells its catch domestically, uses gillnet, hook and line, and trawler techniques.  Large annual fluctuations in bluefish populations are a natural phenomenon; years when they are incredibly abundant can be followed by years when they seem completely absent from New England waters.  The success of the juvenile age class each year is largely influenced by ocean currents.  When currents carry eggs close to the coast where food is abundant, the age class often thrives; if instead currents carry the eggs far out to sea, many will starve.

Despite these natural fluctuations, in the 1980s bluefish populations fell to a point where fishermen and scientists alike were concerned about the health of the stock.  In 2001, managers implemented a plan that was meant to rebuild the stock by 2010, and the goals of this plan were met ahead of schedule in 2007.  Today the bluefish stock is deemed healthy, and is fished at or just above sustainable levels.  Bluefish are managed under the bluefish fishery management plan, which is overseen by the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.

Commercial bluefish operations in the Atlantic are small, and the recreational fishery accounts for 70-90% of the total annual bluefish catch.  Annual quotas are split between the recreational fishery, which receives about 80% of the quota, and commercial operations, which receive about 20%.  There is no minimum size requirement for bluefish, and the possession limit is 10 fish per person per day.  Though bluefish are only seasonal inhabitants of New England’s coastal waters, the fishery is open year round.

Recipe: Lemon Butter Bluefish (from my grandmother’s kitchen)

Bluefish is best when eaten the day it is caught.  Fillets do not keep well, even when frozen.

-Preheat the oven to 400°F.

-Place the fillet in an oiled or buttered baking dish just large enough to hold it. Lightly salt & pepper the fillet and dot with butter.

– Bake for about 15-20 minutes, depending on how thick the fillet is. When the fish will “flake” when gently pried with a fork, it is done.

-While fish is in the oven, make a sauce of melted butter (2 tablespoons per serving), lemon juice (1 tablespoon per serving) and fresh parsley and chives, chopped.  Add salt if unsalted butter is used.


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