Tap here
for menu

New Jersey Scuba Diving


New Jersey Scuba Diving



These fishes are often used as bait, although herrings, sardines, and anchovies are also important food fishes.

Mackerel Scad


Decapterus macarellus

Size: to 12"

Habitat: coastal waters

Notes: Scads are diminutive Jacks. Late in the season huge schools of 3-4" babies may be found in the rivers, and swarming around the inshore reefs. Note the detached rays on the dorsal and anal fins near the tail, forming a finlet like a mackerel. They are mainly harvested for bait, but are also sometimes eaten dried or salted.

download: Fishes of the Gulf of Maine - Mackerel Scad



American Shad
( right )
Alosa sapidissima

Size: to30" and over 9 pounds

Habitat: coastal and estuarine waters


Oceanic adult herrings spend their days deep, and come up to the shallows at night to feed, so you are not very likely to see them. Small ones may be more commonly found in inshore waters. Sometimes the marinas and inlets are full of tiny immature herrings known as "Peanuts." Saltwater herrings ascend rivers to spawn. All herrings are primarily filter-feeders, although larger ones may also be predatory on small fishes, squids, and other prey.

Shad is the largest member of the herring family. They are highly sought-after as sport fish when they make their annual upriver spawning migration in the spring. Some landlocked shads may spend their entire lives in freshwater. Menhaden is another of the many local species of herring.

All herrings and their small cousins sardines share the same saw tooth scales on the belly, giving them the name "saw-bellies". That's why the Knights of Ni demanded that King Arthur "cut down the tallest tree in the forest with ... a herring!" -- from Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Atlantic Herring - Alosa aestivalis - to 15"

Herrings - Marine Biology - New Jersey Scuba Diving Another video from NJScuba.net -- Herrings - Marine Biology - New Jersey Scuba Diving

Schooling herring ( NEFSC )

Herrings - Marine Biology - New Jersey Scuba Diving Another video from NJScuba.net -- Herrings - Marine Biology - New Jersey Scuba Diving

Blue Shark feeding on herring ( NEFSC )

download: US Fish & Wildlife Service Species Profile

download: US Fish & Wildlife Service Species Profile

download: Fishes of the Gulf of Maine - Shad

Atlantic Menhaden (Mossbunker)


Atlantic Menhaden:
A Profile

Scientific Name:
Brevoortia tyrannus


1 lb.

Common Names:
menhaden, bunker, mossbunker, pogy, fatback, alewife, bugfish, skipjack

Although this herring is generally considered unfit for human consumption, the menhaden fishery is one of the most important and productive fisheries on the Atlantic coast. For years, it has provided coastal communities with a stable source of employment and the nation with a major source of protein on a renewable and environmentally sound basis.

-- Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, June 2002

Interesting Fact:
Menhaden travel in large schools which may number in the millions; this makes them easy prey for both predators and fishermen.

Identifying Features:
Very large scaleless head that occupies 1/3 of the total body length; dark blue, green, blue gray, or blue brown above, with silvery sides, belly, and fins and a strong yellow or brassy luster; conspicuous dusky spot on each side close behind the gill opening, with a varying number of smaller dark spots farther back, arranged in irregular rows.

Life History:
Atlantic menhaden are found in estuarine and coastal waters from northern Florida to Nova Scotia, and serve as prey ( food ) for many fish, sea birds and marine mammals. Adult and juvenile menhaden form large, near-surface schools, primarily in estuaries and near-shore ocean waters from early spring through early winter. By summer, menhaden schools stratify by size and age along the coast, with older and larger menhaden found farther north. During fall through early winter, menhaden of all sizes and ages migrate south around the North Carolina capes to spawn.

Sexual maturity begins just before age three, with major spawning areas from the Carolinas to New Jersey; the majority of spawning occurs primarily offshore ( 20-30 miles ) during winter. Buoyant eggs hatch at sea, and larvae are carried into estuarine nursery areas by ocean currents. Larvae change into juveniles in estuaries where they spend most of their first year of life, migrating to the ocean in late fall. Adult and juvenile menhaden migrate south in fall-winter, and adult menhaden migrate north in spring.

One year old menhaden are about six inches long and weigh 2-3 ounces, three year old menhaden are 9-10 inches long and weigh about 0.5 pounds, and menhaden six years and older are about 1 foot long and weigh about 1 pound. Atlantic menhaden may live up to 10-12 years with a maximum length of 20 inches and three pounds.

Adult and juvenile menhaden feed by straining plankton from the water, their gill rakers forming a specialized basket to efficiently capture tiny food. Menhaden provide the link between primary production and higher organisms by consuming plankton and providing forage (food) for species such as striped bass, bluefish and weakfish, to name just a few.

Fish caught in the purse seine reduction fishery are processed into fishmeal, fish oil, and fish solubles. Fishmeal is used as a high quality component in poultry, swine, ruminant and aquaculture feeds, and also in pet foods. Recent technological advances have produced fishmeal that is dried after cooking at relatively low temperatures. This "low temperature" meal, when added to feed formulas, produces exceptional growth rates in target animals.

A purse seiner

Fish oil is high in omega-3 type fatty acids which have been linked to positive health effects in humans. Partially hydrogenated fish oils are used in shortening and margarine. While these oils have been used extensively in Europe and Canada for years, partially hydrogenated menhaden oil was approved for general use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ( FDA ) in 1990. The FDA has recently adjusted the standard of identity for margarine to include use of menhaden oil. The FDA is also considering approval of non-hydrogenated menhaden oil for use in selected foods. In the U.S., fish oil continues to be used in the production of water-resistant paints and cosmetics. Fish solubles are high-protein liquid by-products which are used directly in the feed market or dried onto fishmeal ( i.e., whole meal. )

Menhaden are used as bait in commercial blue crab, lobster, crayfish, and eel fisheries. Menhaden are also used by recreational anglers as chum and as cut or live bait for sportfish such as striped bass, bluefish, king mackerel, sharks, and tunas.

Atlantic Coastal Management:
Amendment 1 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Menhaden was approved and adopted by the Commission in 2001. The plan specifies a new overfishing definition based on target mortality rates and stock biomass levels, and implements a framework for future management measures as the need arises.

New Jersey Atlantic Menhaden Management:
The taking of Atlantic menhaden by any means for purposes of fishmeal reduction is prohibited in New Jersey marine waters. New Jersey allows for the licensed taking of Atlantic menhaden by purse seine for use as commercial and recreational bait outside 0.6 nautical miles from shore in Sandy Hook and Raritan Bays, the Atlantic Ocean, and Delaware Bay. Other licensed gear such as pound net; gill nets and trawls also land Atlantic menhaden for the bait market, but in very modest amounts when compared to the purse seines.

This article first appeared in New Jersey Fish & Wildlife Digest - 2003 Marine edition

download: US Fish & Wildlife Service Species Profile

download: Fishes of the Gulf of Maine - Atlantic Menhaden

Spanish Sardine


Sardinella aurita

Size: to 10"

Habitat: coastal and estuarine waters

Sardines are basically miniature herrings.

No thanks

Bay Anchovy


Anchoa mitchilli

Size: to 4"

Habitat: coastal and estuarine waters

Notes: Another small herring-like fish which forms large schools. These, as well as those above, can form huge schools that swirl around the upper reaches of inshore reefs - a sight that easily rivals the tropics. I have seen them school together with the larger and more striking Silver Anchovy. Note the large underslung mouth, which makes identification from other baitfishes easy. Anchovies are physically fragile, yet tolerate an amazing range of environmental conditions. Fishermen call them "Rainfish".

download: US Fish & Wildlife Service Species Profile

download: Fishes of the Gulf of Maine - Anchovy

Atlantic Silverside (Spearing)


Menidia menidia

Size: to 7 1/2 "

Habitat: Generally inshore in harbors, inlets, and other quiet waters.

Notes: Forms large schools. Look for them swirling around the dive boat at the dock. More closely related to killifishes than herrings, Silversides are also found in fresh water.

download: US Fish & Wildlife Service Species Profile

download: Fishes of the Gulf of Maine

American Sand Lance


Ammodytes americanus

Size: to 8"

Habitat: inshore waters, from surface to bottom

Notes: The Sand Lance is an important link in the marine food chain. It is a major part of the diet of many commercially important fishes, as well as whales and seals. Sand Lances form huge schools to feed on phytoplankton, and have the ability to dive into the bottom sediments to escape predators. I have never seen a live one, but they are common in the bellies of other fishes that you may catch.

Schooling Sand Lances

download: US Fish & Wildlife Service Species Profile

Striped Killifish


Fundulus majalis

Size: to 6"

Habitat: Generally inshore in harbors, inlets, and other quiet waters. Tolerates a wide range of salinities.

Notes: The largest and most attractive of the many species of killifish in the New Jersey area. The male is above, the female below.

Unlike their delicate cousins the Silversides, local killies are tough as nails, and can often survive several days in nothing more than cool damp seaweed.

download: US Fish & Wildlife Service Species Profile

download: Fishes of the Gulf of Maine



Fundulus heteroclitus

Size: to 5"

Habitat: Generally inshore in harbors, inlets, salt marshes and other quiet waters. Tolerates a wide range of salinities.

Notes: This nondescript little fish is most commonly sold as bait for fishermen. Its Indian name means "They go in great numbers".

download: US Fish & Wildlife Service Species Profile

download: Fishes of the Gulf of Maine



I make no claim as to the accuracy, validity, or appropriateness of any information found in this website. I will not be responsible for the consequences of any action that is based upon information found here. Scuba diving is an adventure sport, and as always, you alone are responsible for your own safety and well being.

Copyright © 1996-2016 Rich Galiano
unless otherwise noted



since 2016-09-11