Bluefish flesh is fine-textured, fatty, and the flesh ranges from white to silver-gray. To determine quality, look for bluefish flesh that has a firm texture. The fish are sold fresh as whole fish and as skin-on fillets with the pinbone in as well as salted, dried, smoked, and as a pâté. Pay close attention to quality, especially during peak landings in warm weather months. Bluefish are highly perishable and this short shelf requires the fish to be cleaned quickly and iced. Bluefish doesn’t hold up well to freezing so some buyers recommend looking for it fresh. Bluefish can be substituted for other high oil content fish such as mackerel and farmed salmon.
Based on average landings of bluefish from 2012-2016 and using the most recent 2014 (U.S. Atlantic) Seafood Watch ratings, the sustainability breakdown of bluefish is as follows:
~10% of bluefish landings meet a Seafood Watch "Best Choice (green)" rating (pole-and-line and handline-caught from the U.S. Atlantic) with ~60% from Massachusetts and ~15% each from Florida and New York
~60% of bluefish landings meet a Seafood Watch "Good Alternative (yellow)" rating (bottom trawl and gillnet-caught from the U.S. Atlantic) with ~45% from North Carolina and ~15% from New Jersey
~30% of bluefish landings are unrated/unknown with ~50% from New York and ~25% from Rhode Island
U.S. landings of bluefish have decreased ~15% in 2016 compared to 2012 landings of ~5 million lbs.
U.S. landings of bluefish account for ~10% of global landings, ranking the U.S. 3rd in total landings behind Turkey (~35%) and Brazil (~20%)
Bluefish are greenish-blue to dark blue on their backs and a silvery color on their sides and belly. They have a straight lateral line running across their bodies. Bluefish have forked tails, along with spined and rayed anal and dorsal fins. This species has a prominent extended jaw lined with razor-sharp teeth that allows it to ingest large parts of their prey.
Bluefish can live for over 10 years. The species grows relatively fast and can reach up to 31 pounds and measure over three feet as adults. Bluefish begin reproducing at two years of age when they are about 15 to 20 inches in length. Females can release between 400,000 and two million eggs over their lifetimes, depending on their size. Bluefish will spawn offshore several times during the spring and summer. During spawning, females will release their eggs which are fertilized when males spread their milt. A variety of factors can determine when the eggs hatch, but it usually occurs within two days of fertilization. The newly-hatched fish will migrate towards estuaries and bays, where they remain and grow until they reach around three pounds in weight.
Bluefish eat squid and fish such as menhaden and silversides. This species exhibits a feeding behavior known as “bluefish blitz” where large schools of adult bluefish will attack bait fish near the surface, churning the water. They can have a voracious appetite, going after anything they can catch and eat. Sharks, tuna, and billfish are among the only predators in the ocean that are large and fast enough to prey on adult bluefish. Ocean birds feed upon juvenile bluefish.
Bluefish are widely distributed throughout the world’s temperate and subtropical waters. In the western Atlantic, they range from Nova Scotia, Canada south to Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. They are largely absent from the Bahamas and West Indies. Bluefish occur along South America’s coast from Colombia to Argentina. In the eastern Atlantic, they occur in the Mediterranean and Black Seas as well as the Azores, Canary Islands, and Portugal southward to northern Gambia. They are absent from the Gulf of Guinea. They range from southern Angola to South Africa in the southeastern Atlantic. In the Indian Ocean, bluefish occur from South Africa, Madagascar, and Mozambique to Somalia, India, and Western Australia. They are found in eastern Australia from Queensland south to Victoria. They do not inhabit the northern Pacific.
Female bluefish release their eggs in the open ocean with larvae developing into juveniles near the sea surface. Juveniles will eventually settle in estuarine ecosystems, sandy beaches, or near oyster beds. They will also inhabit mud, silt, or clay ocean bottoms or vegetated areas. Adult bluefish will live in both inshore and offshore areas and are known to travel in large schools that can encompass tens of square miles of ocean. In North America, bluefish will migrate seasonally – moving north to the Mid-Atlantic Bight in the spring and summer and moving offshore or into the South Atlantic Bight in the fall.
Science & Management
Bluefish stocks may have rebounded in recent years, but there are still several scientific gaps that remain which should be addressed in order to further inform sustainable management. Additional studies are needed on the biology and lifespan of the species as well as more research on catch and discards in the commercial fisheries for bluefin. Information on the latter can help fishery managers better understand the impacts of fishing on abundance levels and give them insight into population trends.
There has been a lack of certainty in methods used by scientists to monitor bluefish populations and to estimate recreational catch along the US Atlantic coast. Starting in 2012, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission began a coast-wide sampling program meant to improve the quantity and quality of information used in bluefish stock assessments. The program resulted in increased data that was used in the 2015 benchmark assessment.
The bluefish management plan allows for fishery managers to set aside a small percentage of the annual catch limit for research and for sale. Money from the sale of this catch is used to fund research on bluefish.
U.S. Atlantic bluefish are jointly managed by NOAA Fisheries, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission under the Bluefish Fishery Management Plan (FMP). Bluefish landings (both commercial and recreational) peaked in 1986, but declined shortly after, which prompted the creation of the Bluefish FMP in 1990. Since its inception, the FMP has been amended numerous times – most notably its first amendment in 2000 that established a rebuilding plan to be completed in 2010. In 2009, the stock was officially considered rebuilt.
Bluefish are considered part of a mixed species fishery in the US Atlantic where other species are commonly caught in the bluefish commercial fishery including: spiny dogfish, striped bass, dusky smoothhound, and summer flounder. Bluefish are targeted in the commercial fishery primarily using gillnets, trawls, and handline gears. Among management measures included in the Bluefish FMP are:
Annual catch limits;
Catch allocations (17 percent of the annual catch limit is allocated to the commercial fishery while 83 percent is allocated to the recreational fishery. Any unused recreational catch quotas can be applied to the commercial fishery).
State-specific allocations that divide the total US Atlantic commercial catch limit into state-by-state quotas; and,
Monitoring requirements (landings are monitored weekly and federally permitted vessels must submit monthly logbooks – with some states having mandatory reporting systems for state permitted vessels).
In 2016, commercial landings of bluefish were valued at US $2.93 million. According to a 2015 stock assessment, US Atlantic bluefish are not overfished nor subject to overfishing. Additionally, the total commercial harvest has been consistently below the annual catch limit since 2000.
Bluefish grow quickly and breed frequently, life characteristics that have helped it stay resilient to fishing pressure. Bluefish form large schools that make them easier targets for fishermen but they are also distributed over the world. Although bluefish experienced overfishing in the past and reached lows in the 1990s, the fishery has been recovering and was declared rebuilt after a 2008 assessment.
Habitat impacts (Wild)
Current quotas allocate 83% of the bluefish fishery to recreational fishermen and 17% to commercial harvest. Some bluefish are commercially landed with otter trawls modified with flynets, reducing the likelihood of damage to the seafloor habitat.
Recreational fishermen use hook and line, a method that has relatively low bycatch rates. The majority of commercial fishermen in this fishery catch bluefish using gillnets, which can occasionally entangle marine animals such as dolphins and sea turtles. However, the risk is reduced for bluefish since small-mesh nets are usually employed and these nets have the lowest bycatch rates of the gillnet sizes.
Atlantic bluefish fall under a fishery management plan from 1990. Measures for commercial bluefish fishermen include quotas, minimum fish sizes, minimum mesh restrictions for gear, and permit requirements. Good management has been credited with helping bluefish stocks recover.