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North Carolina Department of Environment Quality

NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Marine Fisheries - Bluefish

Marine Fisheries

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BLUEFISH, Pomatomus saltatrix

8-point rule

Bluefish

Life History

Bluefish (Pomatomus saltatrix) are migratory open water (pelagic) species found throughout the Atlantic Ocean. Bluefish migrate seasonally, moving north as water temperatures rise during spring and summer and south during the fall and winter to areas along the South Atlantic Bight. During the summer, bluefish mostly concentrate in waters from Maine to Cape Hatteras. During the winter, they tend to be found in offshore waters between North Carolina and Florida. Therefore, bluefish are found off North Carolina year-round. Within North Carolina’s estuarine waters bluefish are most common from March through October. Bluefish usually school in groups of similarly sized fish, with schools that can cover miles of ocean.

Bluefish are fast growers and opportunistic predators, feeding on almost any prey they can capture. Over 70 different marine species have been documented in bluefish stomach contents including Atlantic menhaden, butterfish, silversides, spotted seatrout, Atlantic croaker, spot, shrimp, lobster, squid, crabs, worms and clams.

The maximum documented age for bluefish is 14 years. The annual maximum ages for bluefish collected in North Carolina usually range between 10 and 11 years old. The largest bluefish can exceed 39 inches and 31 pounds.

Bluefish usually reach sexual maturity by age 2 around a length of 13 inches. They spawn offshore from Massachusetts through Florida. Some research suggests that two discrete groups of bluefish spawn at different times during the year, one spawning during the spring, and the second spawning during the summer. More recent research suggests that bluefish continue to spawn as they migrate northward during the spring and summer.

Fisheries

Commercial bluefish landings in North Carolina have fluctuated in the past 10 years, but have generally trended downward (Figure 1). The 10-year average of commercial bluefish landings was 1.8 million pounds. Landings in 2015 reached the second lowest point in the time series at 804,336 pounds, although landings did increase in 2016 to 1.1 million pounds. The vast majority of commercially harvested bluefish, 64 percent, are harvested from the ocean gillnet fishery, followed by the estuarine gill net fishery at 28 percent)(Figure 2). Bluefish are harvested commercially year-round, but are most common from the months of January through April.

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 3

North Carolina recreational landings for bluefish have been relatively stable in the past 10 years (Figure 3). The 10-year average for recreational landings was 1.1 million fish (1 million pounds). Most bluefish harvest occurs in the ocean by anglers fishing from the beach or man-made structures such as piers, jetties, and bridges. Bluefish are one of the most frequently harvested fish by recreational anglers in North Carolina. Recreational anglers are more likely to encounter bluefish during the months of May through October.

Management

Bluefish are included in the North Carolina Fishery Management Plan for Interjurisdictional Fisheries. This plan defers management to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and Mid–Atlantic Fishery Management Council fishery management plan for compliance requirements. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission /Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council Bluefish Fishery Management Plan allows for an annually adjusted, state-by-state commercial quota system and recreational harvest limits to reduce fishing mortality.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council approved Amendment 1 to the plan in 1998. Amendment 1 allocates 83 percent of the resource to recreational fisheries and 17 percent to commercial fisheries. North Carolina is allocated 32.06 percent of the coastwide quota for bluefish, which in 2016 was 1.6 million pounds. Each state is required to close its waters to fishing when its share of the commercial quota is landed. The commercial quota can be increased if it is anticipated that the recreational fishery will not land their entire allocation for the upcoming year.

In February 2012, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Bluefish Management Board approved Addendum I to Amendment 1 of the Bluefish plan. The Addendum establishes a coastwide biological monitoring program to improve the quantity and quality of information available for use in future bluefish stock assessments.

The recreational fishery is managed through possession limits, size limits, and seasonal closures. Since recreational landings decreased in recent years, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council recommended an increase in the recreational possession limit from 10 to 15 fish in 2001. North Carolina increased the bluefish bag limit to 15 fish in June of that year. In 2003, the North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission adopted a rule whereby only 5 fish of the 15 fish bag limit can be greater than 24-inches in total length.

Stock Status Overview

A benchmark stock assessment, completed in 2015, indicates that bluefish are not experiencing overfishing (the rate of removal of bluefish from the population is not too high) and are not overfished (the number of mature female bluefish in the population is not too small). Fishing mortality (measure of the rate of removal of bluefish from the population) has steadily declined since 1991. The assessment indicates lower spawning stock biomass estimates (amount of mature female bluefish) relative to the previous assessment. These lower estimates have resulted in decreased annual catch limits. For the 2016 fishing season, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council approved an acceptable biological catch of 19.45 million pounds, an approximate 10 percent decrease from 2015 levels. The relative index of abundance for bluefish is obtained from the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries Pamlico Sound Independent Gill Net Survey. This index was used in the 2015 benchmark stock assessment and will be used in future stock assessment updates. The catch per unit of effort for bluefish has fluctuated during the time series for the survey, and has been declining in the past 2 years (Figure 4).

Figure 4

Research Needs

Research is needed for more adult bluefish indices of abundance, which could be obtained from either a coastwide long-line or gill net survey. There is also a need to expand the age structure of the Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program Trawl Survey from age 0 to include age 1 and age 2. This survey index is currently used to assess age-0 fish only. Collecting age-1 and age-2 fish in this survey will provide more information on the age structure of bluefish in the South Atlantic

Links

Management Agencies

North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries

Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission

Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council

Fishery Management Plans Amendments, Revisions and Supplements

Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission

Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council

Contacts

For more information,
contact Lee Paramore at Lee.Paramore@ncdenr.gov
or 252-473-5734
Bluefish
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N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries • 3441 Arendell Street • Morehead City, NC 28557 • 252-726-7021 or 800-682-2632

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