Fish We Catch

Cape Cod Bay, Martha’s Vineyard, Bluzzard’s Bay

Black Sea Bass

The black sea bass occurs along the Atlantic Coast of the United States from Cape Cod to Florida, reaching greatest abundance between the Capes of New Jersey and North Carolina. This species generally does not occur in the Gulf of Maine, but it is an important groundfish west and south of Cape Cod

Black sea bass are fairly stout-bodied fish, with a long dorsal fin, and large pectoral and pelvic fins. The rounded tail sometimes has a long streamer trailing out from the top edge. Each gill cover has a flat spine near the outer edge. Mature males have a fleshy dorsal hump just anterior to the dorsal fin.

The background color of the black sea bass (smokey gray, brown, or bluish black) is mottled with darker patches and light speckles. The belly is only slightly lighter than the sides. The dorsal fin is marked with whitish mottling, while all other fins have dark spots, Young sea bass are green or brown with a dark lateral stripe running from the head to the tail.

The largest black sea bass caught by an angler in Massachusetts’s waters weighed 8 pounds. However, most adults do not exceed 1.5 pounds. A 12-inch fish generally weighs 1 pound, while an 18 to 20-inch fish weighs about 3 pounds.

Bluefish

The bluefish, a trophy species hotly pursued by anglers due to it’s reputation as a champion battler and voracious predator, is native to both the American and European-African coasts of the Atlantic Ocean. Along the western Atlantic it is abundant from Argentina to Cape Cod, and it occasionally occurs as far north as Nova Scotia.

Bluefish is something of a misnomer, as this species is most commonly a sea-green color above, fading into a silvery shade on its lower sides and belly. The adult bluefish has a stout body and large mouth that extends posteriorly below and beyond the eye. The lower jaw juts out noticeably. Both the upper and lower jaws are fully armed with large conically shaped canine teeth. The dorsal fin is divided into two sections. The first section, about half as long and high as the second, has a series of stiff spines supporting the soft tissues of the fin. The second or posterior dorsal fin is equal in length to the anal fin.

Bluefish rarely exceed 20 lbs. and 40 inches in length. The North American record bluefish, caught in North Carolina, weighed 31 lbs 12 ounces. The Massachusetts record fish, landed at Graves Light in 1982, weighed 27 pounds 4 ounces. The larger fish caught during a given year generally run between 10-15 pounds.

Both male and female bluefish reach sexual maturity by the time they are 2 years old. The fecundity (number of eggs produced) of females is related to their size, with 21-inch female producing about 900,000 eggs and a 23-inch female about 1,100,00 eggs per year.

Striped Bass

The striped bass, or “striper,” one of the most avidly pursued of all coastal sport fish, is native to most of the East Coast, ranging from the lower St. Lawrence River in Canada to Northern Florida, and along portions of the Gulf of Mexico. The striped bass has been prized in Massachusetts since colonial times. In 1670, Plymouth Colony established a free school with income from coastal striped bass fisheries. Thus, one of the first public schools in America was supported by this highly valued resource. The unique angling qualities of this trophy species and its adaptability to fresh water environments have led to a major North American range expansion within the last 100 years. A valuable fishery has been created on the West Coast and inland fisheries have been developed in 31 states by stocking the striped bass into lakes and reservoirs.

Several characteristics distinguished the striper from other fish found in coastal Massachusetts waters. The striped bass has a large mouth, with jaws extending backward to below the eye. It has two prominent spines on the gill covers. The first (most anterior) of its two well-developed and separated dorsal fins possesses a series of sharp, stiffened spines. The anal fin, with its three sharp spines, is about as long as the posterior dorsal fin. The striper’s upper body is blueish to dark olive, and its sides and belly are silvery. Seven or eight narrow stripes extending lengthwise from the back of the head to the base of the tail form the most easily recognized characteristic of this species.

Striped bass can live up to 40 years and can reach weights greater than 100 pounds, although individuals larger than 50 pounds are rare. The all-tackle angling record fish, taken in New Jersey in 1972, weighed 78 ½ pounds and measured 72 inches long. The Massachusetts record of 73 pounds has been equaled on three occasions, the most recent of which was at Nauset Beach in 1981. The following table lists average lengths and weights of striped bass at selected ages; the fish were collected in the Chesapeake Bay and Albermarle Sound (North Carolina) regions.

Females reach significantly greater sizes than do males; most stripers over 30 pounds are female. Thus, the term “bulls,” originally coined to describe extremely large individuals, has been more accurately changed to “cows” in recent times.

The number of eggs produced by a female striped bass is directly related to the size of its body; a 12-pound female may produce about 850,000 eggs, and a 55-pound female about 4,200,000 eggs. Although males reach sexual maturity at two or three years of age, no females mature before the age of four, and some not until the age of six. The size of the females at sexual maturity has been used as a criterion for establishing minimum legal size limit regulations in recent years.

Summer Flounder – Fluke

The summer flounder, or “fluke”, a flatfish noted for its fighting ability and flavor, is found in coastal waters from the southern Gulf of Maine to Florida. Important recreational and commercial fisheries for this species occur from Cape Cod to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.

Like other species of flatfish, the fluke has both eyes on one side of its head and rests on the ocean floor on its side. The fluke is called a left-handed flatfish because its eyes are on the upper surface of the head when the fish is facing left. The species has a very large mouth that extends below and beyond it eyes.

Summer flounder are called the chameleons of the sea because of their ability to change color to match the bottom on which they are found. Generally they are white below and darker above, but they can turn various shades of gray, blue, green-orange, and almost black. The upper part of the fluke’s body is marked with scattered spots that are darker than the general body color.

The angling record for summer flounder in Massachusetts is 21 pounds 8 ounces. Although the largest fluke may weigh up to 26 pounds, the average adult weighs 2 to 5 pounds and measures 17 to 25 inches long. A 15 to 16-inch fish, which is only 2 to 3 years old, weighs about 1 to 1 1/4 pounds. A 20-inch fish is about 3 to 3 ½ pounds, a 30-inch fish would be 10 pounds, and a 37-inch fish would be approximately 20 pounds. Females may live up to 20 years and weigh more than 20 pounds, while males rarely exceed 7 years of age and 3 to 5 pounds in weight.

Both males and females become sexually mature at the age of 3. The fecundity (number of eggs produced in a single spawning season) of females increases with size and weight. A 14-inch female produces about 460,000 and a 27-inch female about 4,200,000, eggs in a season.

Scup

The scup, or “porgy,” known for its fine flavor and its avaricious pursuit of baited hooks, occurs along the continental shelf of eastern North America. It is most common from Cape Cod to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and is encountered only occasionally north of Cape Ann

The scup’s laterally flattened body is about two times as long as it is wide. The head, concave dorsally, has a small mouth and high-set eyes. The scup has one long, continuous dorsal fin, which possesses a series of one short and eleven long spines anteriorly. The anal fin also contains one short spine followed by several long ones. The tail is deeply concave and sharply pointed on the corners. The pelvic fins are located directly below the pectoral fins.

The scup’s body is a dull silvery color flecked with light blue and displaying 12 to 15 inconspicuous horizontal stripes. The head is marked with dark patches, and the belly is white.

The Massachusetts angling record for scup is 5 pounds 14 ounces, but few adults exceed 2 pounds in width and 14 inches in length. Both males and females reach sexual maturity in their second year. Scup can live up to 14 years of age, but most schools of scup contain no fish older than 3 to 4 years.

Tautog

The tautog (or “tog”), a popular inshore game fish, has ranked as high as fourth in recent years in poundage taken by recreational anglers in Massachusetts. This species lives along the Atlantic coast from Nova Scotia to South Carolina, with the greatest number lying along inshore waters from southern Cape Cod to the Delaware Capes. It does not sustain a significant recreational fishery north of Massachusetts.

The tautog is a stout fish with a blunt nose and a thick-lipped mouth that has large conical teeth in front and flat crushing teeth in back. The single dorsal fin originates over the gill slit and runs back nearly to the tail. The anterior three-quarters of this fin possesses a series of stiff, sharp spines, and the paired pelvic fins have one spine each.

The color of the tautog’s dorsal area ranges from dark green to black, with these shades mottling a lighter background color of the sides. The belly is only slightly lighter than the sides. The white chin characteristic of large tautog has led to many anglers to call this fish the “white chin.

Although capable of reaching large sizes, tautog are very slow growing. The largest tautog caught with hook-and-line in Massachusetts weighed 22 pounds 9 ounces. However, the average fish caught by anglers is 6 to 10 years old and weighs 2 to 4 pounds. Males typically grow faster and live longer than females. The maximum age for males appears to be about 35 years.

Both sexes mature at 3 or 4 years of age. The fecundity (number of eggs produced in a spawning season) of females is directly related to their size and weight. Female’s 12 inches long and 1 pound in weight produce about 30,000 eggs, while female’s 20 inches long and 5 pounds produce about 196,000 eggs per season.