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New Jersey Scuba Diving


New Jersey Scuba Diving

Pelagic Fishes


The only trait that these fishes share is that they are all found in the open ocean.


Pelagic Fishes

Pomatomus saltatrix

profile by John McClain, Principal Fisheries Biologist

The Bluefish occurs in temperate and warm waters of the western Atlantic from Nova Scotia to Uruguay, off the west African shelf, in the Mediterranean and Black Seas, in the Indian Ocean, and off Tasmania and Australia. In the United States there are two major fishing areas, Cape Cod Bay to Cape Lookout and Cape Canaveral to Pompano Beach.

The bluefish is the only member of its family; the Pomatomidae. Both sexes are about the same size and may live for 14 years. A one-year-old fish is approximately 9 inches long and 0.3 pound; a 5-year-old is about 27 inches and 7 pounds; a 10-year-old is about 32 inches and 15 pounds; and a 14-year-old may attain 34 riches and 19 pounds. Bluefish are considered primitive relatives of Sea Basses, although their exact relationship with other fishes is debatable.

Bluefish and Pomatomus saltatrix are the accepted common and scientific names. Bluefish are also referred to as snapper, tailor, snapping mackerel and chopper.

Bluefish are highly predatory on other fish. Young bluefish feed on small shrimp, silversides, anchovies and others. Adults eat butterfish, menhaden, silversides, Atlantic mackerel, anchovies and young weakfish along with many other species. Over 70 species of fish and many invertebrates have been found in bluefish stomachs.

In an aquarium

In the wild

Bluefish travel northward as far as Maine in the spring and summer and southward to Florida in the fall and winter, generally in groups with the same size fish. They reach the waters off New York and New Jersey in April and May and begin to move inshore. Adult bluefish move into coastal bays in the spring for a month or so and then into the ocean. Juvenile bluefish, especially young of the year, migrate into our estuaries in the early summer and remain into early fall.

An average-size female will lay 1 million eggs annually after reaching maturity during the second year of life. There are two major spawning areas and seasons along the east coast. One is near the inner edge of the Gulf Stream from southern Florida to North Carolina, where spawning occurs primarily in April and May. The other is in the Middle Atlantic Bight ( Cape Cod to Cape Hatteras ) where spawning occurs June through August over the continental shelf.

Recreational and Commercial Importance:
Commercial landings along the east coast ranged from a high of 16.5 million pounds in 1981 to a low of 7.8 million pounds in 1996. Bluefish are harvested primarily by gill net, otter trawl, pound net, haul seine and hand line. The majority of the commercial landings come from North Carolina, New Jersey, New York and Virginia. Bluefish are limited primarily to the fresh fish market because of their strong flavor and poor freezing qualities.

Recreational landings have ranged from a high of 89.1 million pounds in 1983 to a low of 14.7 million pounds in 1996. Bluefish have always been a favorite with recreational marine anglers in New Jersey, especially among party and charter boat interests. In 1996 New Jersey anglers harvested over one million bluefish weighing over four million pounds.

Sportfishing Facts and Techniques:
Because of their abundance and voracious feeding habits, bluefish are taken in large numbers by anglers. Between May and November, they are accessible to all types of saltwater anglers in the bays, the surf, and the offshore ridges. From bay piers or around bridge pilings, small snappers are taken with bobber rigs baited with spearing or small killies. Small hooks are used for snappers and the best catches are made between late July and September. From a boat in the bay, larger blues, ranging in size from 3/4 to 5 pounds ( or more ) may be taken by trolling or casting rebels and spoons. Surf fishers use cut mackerel, bunker, or mullet for bait fishes, or cast and retrieve spoons and plugs. Offshore anglers troll at moderate speeds with spoons, plugs, and tube lures. During the middle of the day, deep-diving planers or down riggers are needed to reach blues that move to the cooler waters of the depths. One of the favorite methods of party and charter boats is to chum with ground-up bunker. The blues attracted to the chum slick are then taken with cut bait by jigging.

Some general rules that can be helpful for all bluefish anglers are as follows: Look for birds working the water over schools of surface-feeding blues. For their size, blues are tenacious fighters, making dependable tackle a necessity. Leaders should be wire or heavy monofilament to withstand the gnashing teeth of blues. ( Never put your finger inside the mouth of a bluefish ! ) Hooks should be large When retrieving a lure, reel as possible, for blues will often pass up a slow-moving target.

Biological and Fisheries Data on bluefish, Pomatomus saltatrix. National Marine Fisheries Service Technical Series Report No. 11, August 1989
Fishery Management Report No. 14 of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (1989)
The Marine Recreational Fisheries Statistics Survey, National Marine Fisheries Service (1983-l996)

This article first appeared in New Jersey Fish & Wildlife Digest - 1999 Marine edition

See Catch Restrictions for catch limits. | Health Advisories

download: US Fish & Wildlife Service Species Profile

download: Fishes of the Gulf of Maine

Banded Rudderfish

Pelagic Fishes

Seriola zonata

to 24"

Coastal surface waters, congregating around any floating objects

Juveniles ( shown, up to 12" ) are attractively patterned with six or seven dark bars; these are lost in adults, which are also much slimmer. Schools of small Rudderfish can often be found around boats, and even around divers hanging on the anchor line. Pilotfish are similar, but larger and retain dark bars throughout life.

download: Fishes of the Gulf of Maine


Pelagic Fishes

Peprilus tricanthus

to 12"

Coastal waters.

Baby Butterfish are often found sheltering in the tentacles of stinging jellyfishes, to which they are not immune. One slip and they're dead!

Living dangerously

download: Fishes of the Gulf of Maine

Atlantic Mackerel

Pelagic Fishes

Scomber scombrus

to 22" and 7 lbs.

The Atlantic Mackerel is typically an open ocean fish with voracious feeding habits. They travel in schools that often contain thousands of fish. The swift swimming mackerel has a streamlined body and swims at high speeds for extended periods of time searching for food. All individuals within a specific school tend to be the same size. Since cruising speed increases significantly with age and size, scientists believe that conformity of body size within a specific school is necessary to allow all fish to maintain identical swimming speeds. Mackerel may grow as large as 7 1/2 pounds and have a maximum age of about 20 years.

Mackerel reproduce from spring through summer, with more northerly fish spawning later in the season. The mid-Atlantic Bight and the Gulf of St. Lawrence represent the two greatest spawning grounds for this species. Mackerel spawn near the surface and the eggs float in the water column. Many males and females reach sexual maturity at the age of 2 and all do so by 4. The fecundity ( number of eggs produces in a given spawning period ) of females increases as a function of age and size, with an individual female spawning 550,000 to 1,000,000 eggs per season.


The mackerel is native to both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. On the US coast, it ranges along the continental shelf from Labrador south to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Most mackerel inhabit the inner half of the continental shelf with none straying beyond the shelf's outer edge. Although frequently found near the water's surface, they can also be found as far down as 600 feet.

Feeding Habits
Young mackerel feed on microscopic copepods. As they grow, they feed on progressively larger prey. Adults will eat any fish smaller than themselves, feeding heavily upon small herring, sand lance and young mackerel. They also consume a variety of invertebrates such as copepods, crab larvae, squid and shrimp.

As food themselves, mackerel straddles the line between delicacy and cat food, depending on who you ask.

See Restrictions and Health Advisories for catch limits.

King Mackerel Scomberomorous cavalla - to 3 ft ( reported to 6 ft and 100 lbs )

download: Fishes of the Gulf of Maine


Pelagic Fishes

by Bruce Freeman

Six of the world's 13 tuna species occur off New Jersey each year. Among the most beautiful and powerful of sea creatures, the tops of their heads and their upper backs are either solid or wavy lines of dark, lustrous, metallic blue. Their sides are silver or silver grey, often with silvery spots, bands and iridescent hues of purple, pink and gold and silvery-white on the belly. Most young tunas have striking vertical bars along the body flanks, although these disappear with age. The beautiful coloration and patterns serve as camouflage.

Their streamlined bodies are the ultimate in hydrodynamic design. When tunas swim rapidly, all their fins - except two small vertical ones needed for stability and the small finlets used to reduce drag - fold into slots or grooves in the body so as not to interrupt the body's contour. Even their eyes are set flush in the head to form a smooth surface.

Tunas have either very small scales over much of their body or specially modified ones situated just behind the head and along the upper back. These, called corselet scales, are believed to reduce drag by increasing slightly the turbulence of the water flowing around the widest part of the body. The tuna's tail is curved in a crescent shape, providing maximum forward thrust, so it's not surprising that tunas are among the world's fastest swimmers.

Tunas frequent temperate and tropical seas, where the surface water temperature exceeds 64°F, and have developed a unique circulatory and respiratory system. The circulatory system - the heart and blood vessels - is designed to conserve heat during periods of inactivity and to dissipate heat as the activity level increases.

A high metabolic rate enables tunas to maintain a body temperature 10-20°F above that of the surrounding water. This may allow sugars in the muscles to break down faster, providing chemical energy for bursts of speed. An elevated stomach temperature speeds digestion, and the brain and eyes may also perform better at a higher body temperature.

Tunas take a larger proportion of dissolved oxygen from the water than do most other fish. The surface area of the gill filaments, the oxygen-gathering organ, approaches that of the respiratory surface area, found in the lungs of mammals of similar weight. The concentration of oxygen-transporting hemoglobin is as high in tunas as in humans.

Tunas swim constantly, holding their mouths open to force water past their gills. This also compensates for the lack of the swim bladder, the organ that makes fish buoyant. If they need to swim up or down in the water column, the pectoral fins, which act as hydrofoils, are extended away from the body.

Tunas have two types of muscle tissue: white, for short bursts of speech, and red, which functions in continuous swimming. In tunas, the mass of red muscle is rather large, enabling them to swim for long periods without fatigue. Their speed and stamina, coupled with their large size, make tunas among the world's most popular game fish. Also highly sought by commercial fishermen, they make up one of the most valuable fisheries in the world. The tuna harvest from the Atlantic Ocean accounts for about 20 percent of the world-wide catch.


Historically, Bluefins Thunnus thynnus were the most abundant species of tuna occurring within 20 miles of the New Jersey coast. Today, regulations restrict the catch. Bluefins ranging from a few pounds to 14 feet and more than 1,000 pounds occur off New Jersey each summer and fall. Fish weighing up to 100 pounds are known as school tuna; those weighing between 100 and 300 pounds are designated mediums; those larger than 300 pounds are called giants. The maximum size is about 1,800 pounds. School bluefins first occur southeast of Cape May in late June or early July and work their way to off Sandy Hook by mid to late July. Giants occur mostly in the fall and are among the trophies most prized by anglers.

Yellowfin Thunnus albacares, bigeye and albacore tuna occur close to our ports between June and October and can be found even further offshore, along the edge of the Gulf Stream, year round. Yellowfins are by far the most abundant of the three. They usually occur within 30 miles of shore, but also are common up to 90 miles out. They are the major species taken by offshore anglers, who annually land between 5,000 and 20,000 yellowfins. In the recreational fishery, their average weight is 50 to 60 pounds, though fish as large as 6 feet and 290 pounds have been taken.

Yellowfin Tuna ( with Dolphin, at right )

Albacore Thunnus allaluga occur in somewhat cooler ocean waters than do yellowfin, and usually are found from 50 miles out to the edge of the continental shelf ( 95 miles ) and beyond. in years where ocean water temperatures are cool, albacore tend to dominate the offshore catch. Those taken off New Jersey average 40 pounds, with some as large as 75 pounds and 50 inches.

Bigeyes Thunnus obesus favor oceanic waters more than 600 feet deep. They usually are taken along the edge of the continental shelf and at the heads of submarine canyons. Those taken off our coast average about 150 pounds, although some are as large as 365 pounds and 8 feet.


Skipjack tuna Euthynnus pelamis occur from 10 miles offshore and over the entire continental shelf in schools numbering from 10 to tens of thousands. Not usually targeted by anglers because of their small size, skipjacks have an average weight of 5 to 6 pounds; rarely do they exceed 15 pounds off New Jersey, although they do reach 75 lbs and 40 inches.

Little Tunny Euthynnus alletteratus ( a.k.a. Little Tuna ) occur along ocean beaches up to 30 or 40 miles offshore. They average 8 to 10 pounds but can be as big as 50 pounds and 40 inches. Because of their speed and strong fighting characteristics - and the fact that they occur close to shore - little tunny have become very popular with light tackle anglers, who find them challenging to land. Because of their dark flesh, however, they are not favored for eating and those that are caught are released.

Bruce Freeman is a research scientist with the
Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife's Bureau of Marine Fisheries.

This article first appeared in New Jersey Outdoors - Fall 1998

See Catch Restrictions for catch limits. | Health Advisories

Greater Amberjack

Pelagic Fishes

Seriola dumerili

to 60" and 175 lbs. in the tropics

The coloration of the greater amberjack is characterized by a dark stripe on the head which extends from the origin of the first dorsal gin through the eye. The back is blue or olivaceous, and the sides and belly are silvery-white. Occasionally there is an amber or pinkish cast to the body. Juveniles have five or six dark vertical bars along the sides.

Greater amberjack are found in the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. In the western Atlantic, they are distributed from Nova Scotia to Brazil, including the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, where they concentrate around reefs, rock outcrops and wrecks. Greater amberjack that are at least 5 years of age, or 33.5 inches long, spawn from March through July. They may reach a size of 6 feet, and weigh nearly 200 pounds. Voracious predators, greater amberjacks eat mostly crab, squid and other fishes found on reefs. They are often found in small groups and are friendly to divers.

Amberjack eat a diet that is very typical of a deepwater, structure-holding fish: crabs, crustaceans, squid and small fish.

These are active and pretty fish, silvery with yellow stripes. They seem to travel in large schools of small ones led a few larger individuals. It is not difficult to get within spearing range of these fishes, but they have been known to cause ciguatera poisoning if eaten, a little-understood but potentially fatal condition. Lesser Amberjack is similar.

Broadbill Swordfish

Pelagic Fishes

Xiphias gladius

Profile by Bill Figley
Fisheries Biologist

Range and Habitat:
Swordfish are found in temperate and tropical waters. On the East Coast, they extend from the Caribbean to Newfoundland. They occur in New Jersey waters almost year-round, but are most abundant from July to October. Swordfish are pelagic, occurring in the open ocean in depths of over 300 fathoms. They prefer waters 55-65°F. During the summer they concentrate along the edge of the continental shelf, but move further offshore to the warm Gulf Stream during the winter. Although swordfish are often seen basking on the surface, they spend most of their time deep in the water column.

Off New Jersey. swordfish average 100-200 lbs., although they may exceed 1,200 lbs and 15 feet. The males are much smaller then the females and seldom exceed 200 lbs.

Squid, mackerel, hake, deep sea fishes.

In winter, swordfish migrate to the tropical waters of the Caribbean to spawn. Females are very prolific, carrying up to 16 million eggs. Young swordfish have teeth and scales, but these are lost by the time the fish reach 10 lbs. in weight.

Recreational and Commercial Importance:
In New Jersey, commercial fishing for swordfish began in the 1960s. Longlines are the primary gear used to harvest swordfish, although harpoons are also used on occasion. The catch quickly rose to a peak of one million pounds in 1965, before dropping precipitously due to national hysteria over high levels of mercury found in swordfish flesh. Restrictions on inter-state sale of swordfish were imposed by the Food and Drug Administration. Eventually the ban was relaxed and the commercial fishery resumed.

Although very few swordfish are caught by sportfishermen in New Jersey, they are considered one of the ultimate gamefishes. [ Overfishing by commercial longliners ( as in "The Perfect Storm" ) has made large Swordfish scarce. ]

A commercial long-line fishing boat

Sportfishing Facts and Techniques:
Anglers catch swordfish in two ways, either by the traditional method of trolling around fish spotted finning on the surface or by the recently devised technique of drifting rigged baits at night. Overall, night drifting appears more productive.

The swordfishing grounds along the New Jersey coast lie off the edge of the continental shelf in depths of 300 to 1,200 fathoms. The mouths of the canyons are particularly productive. Most night drifting for swordfish is combined with daylight trolling for tuna and marlin. Toward dusk, anglers position their boats so that prevailing winds will push them along a particular fathom contour or predetermined route for the night's fishing.

Heavy duty, high quality equipment is the rule ( 5/0 to 9/0 reels, matching rods, 50 to 80 lbs. test line, ball bearing swivels, 8/0 to 12/0 hooks. ) Whole or cut baits of squid, mackerel, bonito or skipjack are rigged on 12 foot leaders of 200 to 300 lb. test mono. A chemical light stick is either attached directly to the snap swivel or with light, break-away line. The glow of the light stick attracts swordfish to the bait. Usually three baits are set out at various depths, between 20 and 150 feet from the surface. A trolling weight can be used to hold the baits down on a fast drift.

Swordfish often pick up bait very slowly, mouthing it for a long time before swallowing It and finally moving off. Anglers must be patient arid wait for the fish to run off at a hard pace before setting the hook.

Anthony Hillman (art), Migdalski and Fichter (1976) McClane (1978), IGFA (1979), Pete Barrett.

This article first appeared in New Jersey Outdoors - September / October 1983

Blue Marlin Makaira nigricans - to 11 ft & 2000 lbs

See Catch Restrictions for catch limits. | Health Advisories

Northern Tilefish

Pelagic Fishes

Lopholatilus chamaeleonticeps

Size: to 42" and 50 lbs.

Deep waters around offshore canyons

These strange deep-sea fishes are found in the walls of the offshore canyons, far below the range of scuba divers, although they are caught by deep-sea fishermen. Their population is extremely cyclical, with large die-offs from excessively warm water, and this precludes any long term commercial fishery.

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