Bluefish, Pomatomus saltatrix, is the only member of the family Pomatomidae, and is closely related to the jacks, pompanos and roosterfish. Commonly known as chopper, tailor, snapper, elf, skipjack, greenfish and blue, the bluefish inhabits the continental shelf waters of temperate zones. Along the eastern United States, it is found from Nova Scotia to Texas and visits the Hatteras Inlet region from spring to autumn. The bluefish is abundant in the ocean waters off of Hatteras and common most often in the Pamlico Sound.
Schools of like-sized bluefish can cover tens of square miles and undertake extensive coastal migrations. Adults over winter off the southeastern coast of Florida and begin a northerly migration in the spring, following warmer water with local movements into and out of bays and sounds. Their movement patterns are complex and not well understood. Younger fish appear to follow different migratory routes than older fish.
Bluefish have a worldwide distribution with occurrences recorded in the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, the Black Sea and the Indian Ocean.
Adult bluefish are found in a variety of habitats, usually in response to food availability and spawning cues. Bluefish are voracious predators and will feed on virtually any food they can catch and swallow, including butterfish, menhaden, sand lances, silversides, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, weakfish, spotted seatrout, croaker, spot, white perch, shad, alewife, blueback herring and striped bass. Due to their predacious nature, bluefish are in competition with adult striped bass, mackerel and large weakfish. They have few predators and can live 12 years and weigh up to 20 pounds.
During the northward migration, a spring spawning period occurs from Florida to southern North Carolina. A second spawning occurs off the mid-Atlantic coast during the summer.
In the Hatteras area, peak spawning is in July and occurs over the outer continental shelf.
Most bluefish mature at age 2 and have high fecundity. Females can produce 900,000 to 4,500,000 eggs. The distribution of bluefish eggs is related to temperature and salinity and can vary from year to year.
Bluefish larvae can be found offshore between Cape Cod, Massachusetts and Palm Beach, Florida, during every season of the year.
After the spring spawn, bluefish move shoreward. The smaller fish generally enter the Pamlico Sound while the larger fish head farther north.
The wind and currents affect larval distribution. Larvae that originate from spawning off the Chesapeake Bay are carried south and offshore. As larvae grow and are able to swim, they leave the surface for deeper water and move inshore.
Early juveniles (young fish whose fins have formed) enter the Pamlico Sound and its tributaries in the late summer and fall where estuarine areas provide food and shelter.
In the early autumn, bluefish begin to migrate south along the coast. Peak abundance near the Hatteras Inlet occurs from April to July and again in October and November.