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New Jersey Scuba Diving


New Jersey Scuba Diving



Drums are so named for their ability to make drumming sounds with their swim bladder. Actually, many fishes are capable of making sounds, from squeaks to growls, although not all Drums can "drum". Kingfish lack a swim bladder, but still vocalize by grinding their pharyngeal ( throat ) teeth.

Northern Kingfish


Menticirrhus saxatilis

Profile by
Heather Corbett
Assistant Fisheries Biologist

The Northern kingfish, Menticirrhus saxatilis, is popular with many saltwater anglers, and it's no wonder. These fish are known to put up a good fight, and their tasty, white meat is well worth the effort.

Common Names:
Other names for the Northern kingfish include king whiting, sea mullet, northern whiting, roundhead, sea mink, minkfish, whiting and barb.

Northern kingfish are part of the drum family, Sciaenidae, which also includes weakfish, spot, Atlantic croaker, red drum and black drum. Since they lack an air bladder, Northern kingfish do not make typical "drumming" sounds like other members of the drum family, but they can vocalize somewhat by grinding their pharyngeal (throat) teeth.

Notable characteristics are the long spine on the first dorsal fin and a barbel on the chin. Dark, irregular bars are present along the body of the fish. The first two bars form two distinct V-shapes. The bold markings and a dark longitudinal stripe behind the pectoral fins distinguish it from the two other species of kingfish. The markings on Southern kingfish and Gulf kingfish are not nearly as prominent and do not form the V-shaped pattern.

Northern kingfish are found in the Atlantic Ocean from Maine to Florida and in the Gulf of Mexico from Florida to Yucatan. They are most commonly found from the Chesapeake Bay to New York.

Usually found in schools in shallow coastal waters, Northern kingfish prefer areas with a hard or a sandy bottom. They regularly appear along the Atlantic coast from late April to October. It is unknown where Northern kingfish migrate for the winter, but it is thought to be offshore and in deeper water.

Northern kingfish can grow 18 inches long and can weigh up to three pounds, but greater lengths and weights have been reported. Commonly, these fish range from 10 to 14 inches long and weigh from one-half to 1.5 pounds. The largest ever recorded anywhere, a three-year-old female caught in a commercial gill net, was more than 21 inches long and weighed 3.3 pounds. The New Jersey state record was caught in the surf in Margate on Oct. 25, 2003 by Art Higbee, who used bloodworms for bait. The fish was 18 1/4 inches long and weighed two pounds and six ounces - just three ounces more than the record set 10 years ago.

Spawning and Growth:
Spawning typically occurs at the bottom of bays and sounds, but has been reported to occur outside of estuaries. The spawning period ranges from April until August, depending on the region; older fish tend to spawn first. Males become sexually mature around age two and females around age three. The eggs float, and within 46 to 50 hours, they hatch in waters 68 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Northern kingfish grow quickly during their first year of life. Fish spawned in late May or early June can reach a length of 11.8 inches by October. The major period of growth is from mid-summer to late fall, with little or no growth occurring in the winter. The average life expectancy of the Northern kingfish is two to three years, although they are known to live as long as four years.

Northern kingfish are bottom feeders that eat shrimp, small mollusks, worms, young fish, crabs and other crustaceans. Compared with other members of the drum family, the smaller eyes, barbel, inferior mouth and body shape indicate that Northern kingfish feed primarily by using their senses of smell and touch.

Commercial Fishing:
Currently, there is no directed commercial fishery for Northern kingfish in New Jersey, so any commercial harvest is landed only as bycatch. In 2002, 1,500 pounds of Northern kingfish were reported harvested commercially in New Jersey. Most were caught by gill nets and otter trawls with only a few caught by fish pots and traps.

Recreational Fishing:
Late summer produces the best results, and fishing can be done in the surf or by boat close to shore. Small hooks and light tackle should be used and clams, bloodworms or squid cut into bite-size pieces are the most effective bait. Fishing in the bay can be done by anchoring in shallow water about eight to 15 feet deep and chumming with clams. Single or double hooks can be used, depending on your preference, with a small weight to assure you are fishing on the bottom. Some anglers like to use bobbers also. The same bait and hooks are used for surf fishing, which is the more popular method. Try retrieving your line slowly to improve your catch.

Bigelow and Schroeder (1953), NMFS (2002), Virginia Tech Web site, http://fwie.fw.vt.edu/www/macsis/fish.htm

This article first appeared in
New Jersey Fish & Wildlife website - 2004


download: Fishes of the Gulf of Maine



Cynoscion regalis

Profile by John McClain Principle Fisheries Biologist

The Weakfish is a member of the croaker family. The family name is derived from the ability of the males to make a drumming or croaking noise.

to 36" and 18 lbs.

Common Names:
Weakfish, squeteague, trout, gray trout Scientific Name: Cynoscion regalis

Massachusetts Bay to southern Florida Food: Weakfish feed throughout the water column on a large variety of fishes and invertebrates, including butterfish, menhaden, thread herring, round herring, sandlance, silversides, mackerel, anchovy, shrimp, squid, crab and worms.

Weakfish migrate northward in the spring, spending the summer inshore. They move southward again in late autumn.

Usually found in shallow waters along open sandy shores and in large bays and estuaries, including salt marsh creeks and sometimes into river mouths, but never into freshwater.

Most weakfish are mature by the age of two. Spawning occurs in the nearshore and estuarine zones along the coast from May to October. The number of eggs produced is a function of size. Eggs are buoyant and float to the surface where they drift for one and one-half days until hatching.

Recreational and Commercial Importance:
Weakfish are one of the most important recreational and commercial fishes in waters from New York through North Carolina. Annual commercial landings of weakfish along the East Coast from the mid 1940s through 1994 ranged between 3.1 (1967) and 36 (1980) million pounds.

Weakfish are harvested commercially using pound nets, haul seines, gill nets and trawls and hook & line during spring, summer and fall. During the winter they are taken in trawls, gill nets and fly nets, primarily off the North Carolina coast.

Historically, the greatest landings were in the mid-Atlantic and Chesapeake Bay. Before 1957, Virginia and New Jersey accounted for most landings of weakfish. Between 1957 and 1975, North Carolina consistently landed the most weakfish of the Atlantic coast, but Virginia and New Jersey also landed a significant portion of the coast-wide total. After 1976, North Carolina has dominated coast-wide landings, landing between one-third and two-thirds of the coast-wide total.

Recreationally, weakfish are viewed as strong fighters and as a desirable fish for consumption that are available inshore. The recreational catch occurs primarily from private and rental boats, and also party and charter boats and shore-based angling. Recreational landings have ranged from an estimated 960,000 fish in 1992 to a high of 9,344,000 fish in 1981.

At times weakfish are very fussy eaters and will taken only certain baits. One of the most effective methods in shallow bay waters is to chum with live grass shrimp. Place two shrimp on a number 10 or 12 hook and let the bait drift back in the slick. This method will work from a boat or the bank. Another reliable method is to cast and retrieve a bucktail tipped with squid or shedder crab across creek mouths and along sod banks. In the surf, still fishing with cut bait or live spot or snappers is an old standby; casting with plugs, spoons and bucktails will also produce results. Weakfish can be taken in near-shore ocean waters between May and November. Two of the most often used methods are jigging with spoons, bucktails or tube lures and drifting top and bottom rigs baited with squid or fish strips.

Acknowledgements and References:
Fishery Management Report No. 27 of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission

This article first appeared in New Jersey Fish & Wildlife Digest - 2002 Marine edition

See Restrictions and Health Advisories for catch limits.

download: US Fish & Wildlife Service Species Profile

download: Fishes of the Gulf of Maine

Atlantic Croaker


Micropogonias undulatus

Profile by John McClain, Principal Fisheries Biologist

The croaker is a member of the Sciaenidae, or drum family, which includes the black drum and weakfish. Their name comes from the sound they can make by vibrating their swim bladders.

The accepted scientific and common names are Micropogonias undulatus and Atlantic Croaker. Other common names are croaker, golden croaker and hardhead.

The largest Atlantic croaker reported was 26 inches in length and weighed 8 pounds, cleaned. The New Jersey State record is a 5.5-pound fish caught in Delaware Bay in 1981. The average croaker kept by fishermen in New Jersey in recent years ranges from 11 to 14 inches.

The Atlantic croaker is an "opportunistic bottom feeding carnivore" which means it will eat any small shellfish, worm, crab, shrimp, etc, it can catch. In turn, croaker are eaten by the larger predators such as bluefish, striped bass, summer flounder, weakfish and sharks.

Range And Migration:
The Atlantic croaker occurs in Atlantic coastal waters from Cape Cod, Massachusetts to Florida and through the Gulf of Mexico. While uncommon north of New Jersey, they are one of the most abundant inshore bottom dwelling fish from the Chesapeake south through the Gulf of Mexico. Their appearance in our waters is dependent on favorable environmental conditions and/or high population numbers. When conditions have been favorable, adult croaker move into Delaware Bay and our coastal waters in early summer. They begin moving south and somewhat offshore in mid-fall.

Atlantic Croaker spawn offshore from September through December between Cape May and North Carolina. Further south, the spawning season extends into March. Most croaker are mature by age three. Females can release from 100,000 to 1.5 million eggs depending on fish size. The young move into the larger bays and upriver after spawning where they appear to overwinter. Young croaker ranging from less than 1 inch to 2 inches have been taken in the Delaware River in November and December. This tendency may account in part for the variability in croaker abundance. Studies indicate that winter water temperatures in the mid-Atlantic estuaries greatly affect the number of croaker in the mid-Atlantic region. The survival rate for young of the year Atlantic croaker is less than two percent at temperatures below 38°F. Severe winters can result in the loss of most of a year class of overwintering fish.

Juvenile in aquarium

Commercial And Recreational Importance:
Commercial landings in New Jersey have varied widely over time, from 100 pounds in 1971 to 2.1 million pounds in 2000. Most of the harvest is taken August through October by the otter trawl fishery in the southern portion of the state. However, gill net landings have increased in the last few years, going from less than one percent of the landings in 1997 to 30% in 2000. The Marine Recreational Fisheries Statistics Survey reported no New Jersey landings from 1982 through 1990 and for 1992. A few fish were taken in 1991 and reported landings since then have increased drastically from 2500 fish in 1993 to 990,000 fish in 2000. The fishery occurs primarily in our southern coastal waters and Delaware Bay.

Sportfishing Techniques:
Atlantic Croaker are caught from July through October by private, party and to a lesser extent charter boats. Most are taken in the ocean, although bay catches have been increasing. Croaker are caught using top and bottom rigs, single hook rigs, bucktails and jigs. Baits used are shrimp, worms, shedder crab, fish, squid and soft plastic lures. Since croakers are bottom feeders, enough weight must be used to keep the bait close to the bottom.

Lankford, T. E. Jr. and T.E. Targett, 2001
Unpublished manuscript
Personal communication from the National Marine Fisheries Services, Fisheries
Statistics and Economics Division, Silver Spring, Maryland

This article first appeared in New Jersey Fish & Wildlife Digest - 2002 Marine edition

Black Drum is similar and related, but typically much larger.

Black Drum - Pogonias cromis - to 67" & 109 lbs

Spot (Lafayette)


Leiostomus xanthurus

to 14"
seldom that big

Shallow coastal waters, bays, estuaries.

These diminutive drums form an important fishery, both commercial and recreational.

Spot migrate seasonally, entering bays and estuaries in the spring where they remain until late summer or fall when they move offshore to spawn. When mature, spot are between 2-3 years of age and 7-8 inches long.

Spawning takes place in the ocean from fall to early spring, and the post-larva move into estuaries, utilizing low salinity tidal creeks where they develop into juveniles. As they grow, they move toward higher salinity areas during the summer and early fall and offshore in the fall as water temperatures decreases. Those that summered in the northern portion of their range also move south in autumn.

Spot prey on bivalves and tube-building polychaetes, often nipping bivalve siphons and polychaete tails. Additionally, adult spot feed on small crustaceans, small fish, and plant material. They eat by grabbing a mouthful of sediment, chewing, and then spitting out unwanted matter.

download: US Fish & Wildlife Service Species Profile

download: Fishes of the Gulf of Maine

Red Drum is similar and related, but typically much larger.

Red Drum - Sciaenops ocellatus - to 58" & 92 lbs



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.

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unless otherwise noted



since 2016-09-11