Diadromous Fishes

Diadromous is a general category describing fish that spend portions of their life cycles partially in fresh water and partially in salt water. These represent both anadromous and catadromous fish. Anadromous fishes spend most of their adult lives at sea, but return to fresh water to spawn. Catadromous is a term used for a special category of marine fishes who spend most of their adult lives in fresh water, but must return to the sea to spawn. True anadromous fish migrate from the ocean to spawn in freshwater rivers or sometimes in the brackish upper reaches of the estuary. Catadromous fishes, on the other hand, spawn in the marine environment and move to the riverine environment to mature over a several-year period.

Habitat area for diadromous fish in the New York Bight watershed declined as early as the 1800's, when free-flowing rivers were dammed and their energy harnessed to support the industrial revolution; continued habitat loss and continuous overharvesting of fishery resources have left these once substantial fisheries as fragments of their former capacities. The diadromous fishes of the Bight are represented by six anadromous families: Acipenseridae, Clupeidae, Moronidae, Osmeridae, Petromyzontidae, and Salmonidae; and one catadromous family, Anguillidae. Not all of the members within these families are anadromous; however, all are associated with the rich estuarine nursery areas of the Bight during their early life stages. The following is an examination of these species by family group.

Anadromous fishes

Acipenseridae (sturgeons)

Sturgeon are long-lived, slow growing species that have suffered serious historical declines because of their value as a high-quality food fish and an important source of caviar. The Atlantic sturgeon is protected over much of its range through fisheries management efforts, and the shortnose sturgeon is listed federally as a endangered species. Sturgeon use large rivers and estuaries almost exclusively during the first five years of their lives. Both species begin their spawning migration in late winter to early summer, with the shortnose starting earlier than the Atlantic. Sturgeons mature late in life; males at 8 to 12 years and females at 12 to 15 years. It is not known how long on average sturgeon live, but they are assumed to be long-lived. The juvenile sturgeon utilize the Hudson River estuary exclusively. Shortnose sturgeon retreat to the deep freshwater upriver areas in winter, but Atlantic sturgeon behavior is not as clearly defined; they use the Highlands and Haverstraw Bay/Tappan Zee stretches of the river, which can be fresh or brackish depending on yearly rainfall. Atlantic sturgeon spawn in the Hudson River in the mid-estuary region above Stony Point, an area that is usually oligohaline (0.5 to 5 parts per thousand). Shortnose sturgeon spawn primarily in the upper freshwater reaches of the Hudson from Coxsackie to Troy (river kilometer 120 [river mile 75] to river kilometer 244 [river mile 152]). Atlantic sturgeon are known to make oceanic migrations of considerable distances both north and south, but this remains poorly documented for the rarer shortnose sturgeon.

Species Common name Spawning season Spawning temp.
(F )
Spawning zone Egg location in water column Larvae location
Acipenser brevirostrum Shortnose sturgeon (A-F/AN) late March to April 10-18


fresh tidal demersal adhesive tidal fresh
Acipenser oxyrhynchus Atlantic sturgeon (A-F/AN) May to July 13-21


brackish or fresh demersal adhesive tidal fresh to brackish

Clupeidae (herrings)

Seven species of true herrings occur in the New York Bight area: alewife and blueback, collectively called river herrings; American shad; the less common hickory shad and gizzard shad; and two marine non-anadromous species, Atlantic menhaden and Atlantic herring. The herring family represents large numbers of fish in the Bight, and the two marine species are dominant biomass components in the marine ecosystem, while the Alosids are the dominant biomass in the freshwater system.. The true anadromous fish, however, have all undergone reduced populations because of common problems of overharvesting, pollution, and the restriction of freshwater spawning habitat areas, principally through dams and other obstructions of fish passage. The locks at Troy are used by these fish, increasing their range into the upper Hudson and Mohawk systems. This increase in available habitat may compensate at the population level for local biomass declines in the lower watershed.

Species Common name Spawning season Spawning temp.
Spawning zone Egg location in water column Larvae location
Alosa aestivalis Blueback herring (A-F/AN) April to June 20-25


fresh or brackish essentially pelagic fresh
Alosa mediocris Hickory shad (A-F/AN) April to June 16-31


fresh demersal or pelagic fresh
Alosa pseudoharengus Alewife (A-F/AN) late March to mid-May 16-19


fresh essentially pelagic fresh
Alosa sapidissima American shad (A-F/AN) April to June 12-21


fresh and brackish demersal or pelagic fresh and brackish
Brevoortia tyrannus Atlantic menhaden (A) fall and spring 8-26


marine pelagic fresh to marine
Clupea harengus Atlantic herring (A) fall and spring 0-15


marine demersal attached marine
Dorosoma cepedianum Gizzard shad (A-F/AN) late spring to early summer 10-28


fresh demersal attached fresh and brackish

Moronidae (temperate river basses)

The two temperate river bass of the Bight region share a number of physical and morphological similarities and are difficult to tell apart during their early life stages. The striped bass is strongly anadromous and highly migratory, while the white perch is more or less restricted to estuarine waters and seldom found in open marine waters. The Hudson River is one of two major East Coast spawning areas for striped bass, contributing significantly to the adult population that summers along coastal New England. Striped bass spawn in the freshwater section of the Hudson above river mile 120 (Coxsackie to Troy).

Species Common name Spawning season Spawning temp.
Spawning zone Egg location in water column Larvae location
Morone americana White perch (A-F) April to May 10-19


brackish to fresh demersal fresh to estuarine
Morone saxatilis Striped bass (A-F/AN) May to June 10-25


fresh to brackish semi-demersal fresh to brackish estuarine

Osmeridae (smelts)

The rainbow smelt is an abundant forage fish in the Bight that is regularly preyed upon by top predator coastal marine species, especially striped bass and bluefish. In the early spring, smelt migrate into the coastal streams above the head of tide to spawn. Smelt spawn in the tidal freshwater tributaries of the Hudson River where the head of tide is often cut short by a dam. Successful hatching and early survival depends on water velocity, substrate type, and egg density. After hatching, larvae are transported to the estuary area where they feed and grow. Smelt rarely move out of the nearshore coastal area, straying no more than 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from shore to a maximum depth of 6 meters (19.6 feet).

Species Common name Spawning season Spawning temp.
Spawning zone Egg location in water column Larvae location
Osmerus mordax Rainbow smelt


March to May 4-9


fresh demersal


fresh to estuarine

Petromyzontidae (lampreys)

The sea lamprey is a parasitic anadromous fish that spends its egg and larval life stages entirely in fresh water. At transformation (the process by which the lamprey's body changes into that of a parasite), it moves out to sea for its parasitic life phase during which it lives on a host fish. After one to two years at sea, it returns to fresh water as an adult to spawn and then dies. Because of the economic importance and the profound effects of the sea lamprey on fish communities, its life history has been studied intensely. In the Bight, sea lampreys ascend coastal streams in Long Island, New York, the New Jersey shore, and the Hudson River.

Species Common name Spawning season Spawning temp.
Spawning zone Egg location in water column Larvae location
Petromyzon marinus sea lamprey


April to July 10-16


fresh demersal fresh

Salmonidae (trout)

The brown trout is a non-native, introduced anadromous species, of which some sea-run strains are found in a few locations on Long Island in the Bight study area. The anadromous form of brook trout, a closely related species, is not found in the study area, but is found in some of the adjacent New England waters.

Species Common nam Spawning season Spawning temp.
Spawning zone Egg location in water column Larvae location
Salvelinus fontinalis (Native Pop.) Brook trout (A-F) fall, mid - October to December 8-13


fresh bottom


Salmo trutta Brown trout (A-F-I/AN) fall to winter 9-20


fresh bottom


fresh to estuary

Catadromous fishes

Catadromous fishes are a special category of marine fish that spawn in salt water and whose young migrate long distances to enter fresh water to complete their growth and development to the adult stage.

Anguillidae (freshwater eels)

American eel adults and various life stages are found in oceanic, coastal, and freshwater environments from the southern tip of Greenland and Labrador south, covering the entire Atlantic coast and most of the Gulf coast of North America. American eels are marketed for human consumption and as bait for various recreational and commercial fisheries. Adult eels are commercially caught for the European smoked eel markets and juvenile elvers (immature eels) are harvested for Japanese aquaculture. The eel is an important food item of larger marine and freshwater fishes and is a predator on species such as crabs and clams. In the Bight area, eels are found from the ocean to headwater streams far inland. They have a propensity for working their way upstream over or around small obstructions, sometimes traveling overland on rainy nights. Eels spend considerable time buried in the substrate (gravel or mud) or under rocks. Recent studies indicate that eels suffer substantial losses while migrating upstream because of dams and other obstructions, while on their journey downstream losses occur as eels collide with turbines. Several studies are underway to determine solutions to these problems.

Species Common name Migration into river Spawning temp.
Spawning zone Egg location in water column Larvae location
Anguilla rostrata American eel


late winter to early spring not certain 20s


marine, Sargasso Sea not known 0-300 m marine

Other species of note

Atlantic tomcod (Microgadus tomcod) is another species of fish prevalent in the Bight that deserves discussion. Although not truly an anadromous species, the tomcod, an inshore coastal fish, moves upstream into brackish waters to spawn. In the Hudson River, tomcod spawn between November and February in the tidal waters between West Point and Poughkeepsie, New York. Incubation of their sticky, demersal eggs takes place at temperatures from 0 to 2.5C (32 to 36.5F). They are fast-growing and short-lived, seldom living past their second year. Because of their short life span and abundance in estuarine systems, as well as their sensitivity to environmental stresses, tomcod numbers serve as an excellent measure of environmental health.

The bay anchovy (Anchoa mitchilli) is a small, delicate, estuarine-spawning, schooling fish that is abundant in the mid-Atlantic region. The bay anchovy occurs in great numbers in the lower Hudson River estuary, moving between brackish and salt water apparently in response to spawning and growth needs. Bay anchovy is an important prey item for striped bass, bluefish, weakfish, white perch, and many piscivorous birds. Spawning occurs over an extended period from May to September with water temperatures ranging from 15 to 30C (59 to 86F). Bay anchovy are often the dominant species in the Hudson River estuary and are well-suited to the area since they are planktonic feeders; detritus from sewage supplements their main food source.

Threats and Conservation Recommendations

Steady declines in the Atlantic anadromous fish stocks have been heavily influenced by nonfishing human activities in the coastal zone, suburbanization, and hydrologic barriers. Damming of rivers for a number of uses from hydropower to flood control and water supply has prevented fish from reaching all or portions of their former spawning grounds over a large portion of the New York Bight. Coastal pollution has reduced the juvenile habitat needed by these stocks to feed and grow successfully, and there is still a moderate fishing activity on these species that tends to keep the spawning stock biomass low.

Barriers to upstream and downstream fish migration exist on nearly all rivers and coastal streams in the New York Bight watershed. Most of the larger barriers, such as hydropower dams on the larger tributaries, are well known and obvious obstructions, but fish passage can be blocked by a structure less than one foot high, such as a road culvert. Typical blockages include streamflow gauging stations, historical mill and water supply dams, flood control structures, and wildlife or recreational impoundments. In the New York Bight study area there are more than a thousand barriers to fish passage. In the Atlantic drainage sections of New York, parts of Long Island, and the Hudson River to Troy, there are literally hundreds of barriers and no dedicated upstream fish passage facilities. The Atlantic drainage areas in New Jersey are in a similar situation except for two of the more common fish ladder types used in low head (height) situations, an Alaskan steeppass on Shenandoah Lake, Ocean County, and a baffle board system at the head-of-river, Tuckahoe River, Atlantic County.

The most common means of surmounting fish barriers is to move fish over or around these structures as efficiently as possible. Sometimes the simplest solution is to remove all or part of the structure by breaching it. This solution is a practical alternative for structures that are no longer in use and are either too expensive to remove or have some residual function that removal would impair. Functional structures such as culverts, gauging stations, or low head dams that impede passage can sometimes be redesigned to provide the necessary flows and gradient to pass fish. Some practical solutions include burying culverts below streambed, redesigning approaches, changing elevations with simple pool and weir configurations, and providing a notch in the structure that provides a stream of water to allow passage.

Fishways are common engineering solutions to fish passage. They can be as simple as a portable section of an Alaska steeppass system or as complex as a fish lift (elevator) at a large hydropower facility. A classic fishway is an inclined water conveyance structure with a series of weirs or baffles that slows the water flow, allowing migrating fish to swim through. There are several types of fishways, including Denil, steeppass, vertical slot, and pool and weir. The Service's New York Field Office and Region 5 Engineering Branches are developing a series of downstream passageways in the Hudson basin.

Priority ranking of impediments to fish passage within watersheds is an important first step in the process of restoring historical anadromous and catadromous fish runs. Compiling information on historical populations, hydrology, topography, bathymetry, watershed size, and habitat values in those river reaches above blockages and putting it into a geographic data base and geographic information system (GIS) will assist in the ranking effort. Once identified, the removal of barriers requires the cooperative efforts of state, federal, and local governments, as well as support from private citizens and business interests. Dedication, time, and money are the ingredients chiefly needed for successful restoration efforts. There are hundreds of miles of spawning habitat in the Bight awaiting restoration that will benefit the fishery resource.

Estuarine Fishes

The New York Bight is generally defined as that region of the Atlantic Ocean enclosed within the area from Montauk Point, Long Island, to Cape May, New Jersey, seaward to the edge of the continental shelf. The complex of bays and lagoons, sandy barrier islands, tidal streams and creeks, and river mouths is a significant feature of this area. The Bight has a vast continental shelf, extending seaward nearly 160 kilometers (100 miles), and can be characterized as having a gentle slope and two ancient river valleys, the Hudson and Block canyons, as well as numerous shoals and sand ridges in the near coastal area. The Bight proper forms a triangle, with the apex at New York City (Hudson River) and the base stretching across the edge of the continental shelf. The area's diurnal tides are forced by this shape, causing the greatest tidal range at the apex area (about 1.5 meters [5 feet]) and lesser tidal influence at the open areas of the unconstricted triangle base. Tidal range is about 1 meter (3 feet) at Montauk and about 1.2 meters (4 feet) in the Cape May vicinity.

The richness of fish species in the New York Bight is due to a unique situation. The area is a transition zone where the northern cold water (boreal) species and the warm water (temperate) fauna meet, with both groups at the limits of their respective ranges. There are a few endemic fish species in the Bight; however, the majority are seasonal migrants, taking advantage of the opportunity to use the area for reproduction and/or growth. The vastness of the relatively shallow continental shelf area and the number of high-quality estuary systems that nurture and protect estuarine-dependent fish are major contributing factors to this area's diversity and regionally-significant secondary production.

Estuarine fishes are resident species of tidal waters where salinities range from tidal fresh to marine, or from 0.5 to 30 parts per thousand (ppt). The species in this grouping are known to stray into nontidal fresh water or, at the other extreme, into the coastal region of the marine environment. Estuarine fishes in general spawn in salinities greater than 5 ppt, and are not known for mass spawning migrations as are many of the anadromous fish that use the estuarine areas as migration pathways. Most estuarine species begin spawning in late spring and continue throughout most of the summer. Optimum spawning salinities for most of these fishes are 5 to 20 ppt. Within this diverse group of fish, a general onshore and offshore pattern of seasonal movements occurs, i.e., upstream and towards shore in spring and summer, and downstream to deeper waters in fall and winter.

There are a number of resident estuarine fishes in the New York Bight whose entire existence depends on the shallow water habitats provided by the backbarrier lagoons, tidal rivers, and creeks of the area. These fish form an important forage base for larger predatory fish and piscivorous birds. Examples of this group include Atlantic silverside (Menidia menidia), mummichog (Fundulus heteroclitus), striped killifish (Fundulus majalis), sheepshead minnow (Cyprinodon variegatus), bay anchovy (Anchoa mitchilli), three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus), and four-spined stickleback (Apeltes quadracus); all life stages of these species can be found in the estuary system throughout the year. American eel (Anguilla rostrata), a catadromous fish previously discussed, uses the estuaries and freshwater areas as its residence except when it migrates to sea to reproduce.

There are many estuarine migratory species in the Bight that depend on the estuary primarily as a nursery area, and or as a forage area for juveniles or adults. Winter flounder (Pleuronectes americanus), tautog (Tautoga onitis), black sea bass (Centropristis striata), Atlantic menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus), bluefish (Pomatomus saltatrix), mullet (Mugil ssp.), sandlance (Ammodytes americanus), bay anchovy, and striped bass (Morone saxatilis) are the most prevalent species of this group to use the backbarrier lagoons, large tidal rivers, and tidal creeks for spawning or nurseries. These fish tend to migrate in and out of the system on a seasonal basis. The anadromous component of this group annually migrates into the freshwater areas to spawn. Winter flounder and sandlance spawn in the estuarine zone. Bay and ocean spawners such as bay anchovy, sea bass, bluefish, tautog, and menhaden have larval and early juvenile stages that will drift toward or swim shoreward to seek out the nutrient-rich, food-abundant, estuarine area where, during the warmer months, they have the greatest opportunity to grow. The nearshore and shallow water habitats are the most vulnerable aquatic habitats in this system because of the anthropogenic influences and insults to them, plus overuse by an expanding human population that values these areas for development and recreation.

Freshwater Fishes

Freshwater fishes are inhabitants of tidal and nontidal freshwater or low-salinity portions (brooks, streams, ponds, and lakes) of the New York Bight watershed. In the winter, many of these species will descend into brackish waters, where available. Many of the species are small to medium-sized, somewhat solitary in nature, and are commonly found foraging along the bottom or among aquatic vegetation. Some freshwater species are found in both shallow and deep open water; however, most are found along the shoreline or in cove areas, and some are highly selective of habitat while others are less discriminating in their requirements. Freshwater fish are rarely found in salinities above 8 to 10 parts per thousand (ppt), although some species have been recorded at the extreme limit of their tolerance of 15 to 20 ppt. Spawning and early development are usually restricted to nontidal waters, and generally take place in late spring to early summer. The exception is the Hudson River, where the tidal influence may limit available spawning habitat for some species.

Freshwater species of special emphasis in the Bight watershed include:

American brook lamprey (Lampetra appendix)
banded killifish (Fundulus diaphanus)
banded sunfish (Enneacanthus obesus)
black crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus)
bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus)
bluntnose minnow (Pimephales notatus)
brook silverside (Labidesthes sicculus)
brown bullhead (Ameiurus nebulosus)
eastern mudminnow (Umbra pygmaea)
emerald shiner (Notropis atherinoides)
fallfish (Semotilus corporalis)
golden shiner (Notemigonus crysoleucas)
goldfish (Carassius auratus)
green sunfish (Lepomis cyanelluss)
largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides)
mud sunfish (Acantharchus pomotis)
northern hog sucker (Hypentelium nigricans)
northern pike (Esox lucius)
walleye (Stizostedion vitreum)
pirate perch (Aphredoderus sayanus)
pumpkinseed (Lepomis gibbosus)
redbreasted sunfish (Lepomis auritus)
redfin pickerel (Esox americanus americanus)
rock bass (Ambloplites rupestris)
silver lamprey (Ichthyomyzon unicuspis)
silvery minnow (Hybognathus nuchalis)
slimy sculpin (Cottus cognatus)
smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu)
spotfin shiner (Cyprinella spiloptera)
spottail shiner (Notropis hudsonius)
tessellated darter (Etheostoma olmstedi)
white catfish (Ameiurus catus)
white crappie (Pomoxis annularis)
white sucker (Catostomus commersoni)
yellow bullhead (Ameiurus natalis)
yellow perch (Perca flavescens)

Many of these species are sought after in freshwater sportfisheries and are managed by fishing regulations set by the respective states. Loss of important aquatic habitat by anthropogenic pollution is the primary threat to this group of fishes, and their survival depends on curbing point and nonpoint source pollution, managing for the prevention of accidental chemical and oil spills, and reducing atmospheric pollutants in the environment.

Commercial Marine Fisheries

There are several groups of marine fishes and invertebrates that are commercially important. Habitat loss and degradation are major contributing factors in the decline of commercial and recreational fisheries and the endangerment of protected species. Conservation of our living marine resources must start with habitat protection.

Demersal or Groundfish Fisheries

The demersal fish (groundfish) are those fish that spend at least their adult life stage on, or in close proximity to, the ocean bottom. They are considered to be high-value fish and are sought by both commercial and recreational anglers. Groundfish are often found in mixed species aggregations that are composed of different mixes by area and time of year. The principal groundfish and flounders that are intensively sought for their food value in the New York Bight are winter flounder (Pleuronectes americanus), summer flounder (Paralichthys dentatus), witch flounder (Glyptocephalus cynoglossus), windowpane flounder (Scophthalmus aquosus), silver hake (Merluccius bilinearis), red hake (Urophycis chuss), and yellowtail flounder (Pleuronectes ferrugineus). Fish landed in ports of the New York Bight, but caught mostly outside north and east of the Bight study area, are Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua), haddock (Melanogrammus aeglefinus), and pollock (Pollachius virens). Other important commercial fish caught in the Bight include white hake (Urophycis tenuis), goosefish (Lophius americanus), ocean pout (Macrozoarces americanus), scup (Stenotomus chrysops), tilefish (Lopholatilus chamaeleonticeps), black sea bass (Centropristis striata), spot (Leiostomas xanthurus), weakfish (Cynoscion regalis), and spiny dogfish (Squalus acanthias).

Demersal fish are primarily taken in a mixed trawl fishery; however, a great number also are taken with other gear such as gill nets, traps, and longlines. This group of fish is managed to a great extent by the multi-species groundfish fishery management plan (FMP) (Table 7.) The total finfish biomass and species composition of the ecosystem have been changing. The decline in the principal groundfish stocks associated with changes in fisheries legislation, technology, and economics has caused skates and dogfish, previously considered minor species, to become in recent years dominant components of the catch in this system.

Pelagic Fisheries

Pelagic fishes generally are those schooling fish that occupy the mid- to upper water column as juveniles and adults, and are sought in the Bight from the nearshore to the continental slope. Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus), Atlantic mackerel (Scomber scombrus), butterfish (Peprilus triacanthus), and bluefish (Pomatomus saltatrix) are the principal pelagic fish species commercially sought in the Bight, while bluefish and mackerel are also prized recreational species. Also fished in the pelagic zone are two species of invertebrates, long-finned and short-finned squid (Loligo pealeii and Illex illecebrosus). The herring and mackerel fisheries have rebounded from minimal levels in the mid-1970s to a recovered status. In an interesting biomass shift, the American sandlance, an opportunistic species whose populations exploded with the 1970's decline of its major predators, herring and mackerel, is now itself declining. There are three FMPs that attempt to regulate and manage the pelagic fisheries: the squid-mackerel-butterfish plan, the bluefish plan, and the Atlantic herring plan. Selective gear such as mid-water trawl, pairs trawl, and purse seine to specifically target pelagic fish is employed to provide nearly single-species catches. With the use of this gear and sophisticated electronics to image and identify schools by species type, this fishery can be managed with little bycatch (catching of non-targeted species). Provided that gear sizing is proper to allow for juvenile escape, the abundance and landings of these species should remain stable in the future.

Anadromous Fisheries

This group of fish relies on annual adult migrations from the sea to the specific freshwater rivers and habitats of origins to spawn, and includes American shad (Alosa sapidissima), hickory shad (Alosa mediocris), alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus), blueback herring (Alosa aestivalis), striped bass (Morone saxatilis), and Atlantic sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrhynchus). The river herring, which include blueback herring and alewife, have experienced a dramatic decline in abundance since the 1960s and they are still being exploited above optimum levels. Restoration efforts are being implemented in many areas to reclaim important spawning habitat currently unavailable because of migration impediments, and bycatch is managed under the squid-mackerel-butterfish FMP to improve survival. Striped bass have made a spectacular recovery from the species' previous very depressed condition. Limited commercial harvest is currently allowed, but striped bass commercial landings will remain at a lower level for the near future, since the stock is still in management under the Striped Bass Recovery Act. It should be noted that the striped bass was declared fully recovered in January 1995. Commercial fishing for this group of fish uses a variety of gear types, including haul seine, trawl, pound and gill net, and hook and line. Commercial fisheries continue on American shad stocks, although most are in depressed condition. Management recommendations are currently being developed to assist in recovery of the stocks.

Atlantic Highly Migratory Pelagic Fisheries

Major species of these wide-ranging pelagic species in the New York Bight include Atlantic swordfish (Xiphias gladius), sailfish (Istiophorus platypterus), blue marlin (Makaira nigricans), white marlin (Tetrapturus albidus), Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus), albacore (Thunnus alalunga), bigeye tuna (Thunnus obesus), blackfin tuna (Thunnus atlanticus), yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares), little tunny (Euthynnus alletteratus), skipjack tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis), bullet mackerel (Auxis rochei), and frigate mackerel (Auxis thazard). These diverse fishes are highly migratory in nature and tend to spend their summers in the nearcoastal and shelf surface waters of the Bight, taking advantage of the abundant availability of prey in the warm surface waters.

Coastal Migratory Pelagic Fisheries

These fast-swimming schooling fishes range from the shore to the continental shelf edge in the Bight and are sought by both recreational and commercial anglers. Included in this assemblage are king mackerel (Scomberomorus cavalla), Spanish mackerel (Scomberomorus maculatus), cobia (Rachycentron canadum), and dolphin fish (Coryphaena hippurus). They share the common characteristics of rapid growth, voracious feeding, and high reproductive capacity, as they mature at an early age and spawn over protracted periods of time. These fish utilize the highly productive coastal waters of the Bight during the summer months and migrate to deeper and/or distant waters during the rest of the year.

Atlantic Sharks

Pelagic and coastal sharks that frequent the New York Bight waters are sought by commercial and recreational anglers. Pelagic sharks include blue shark (Prionace glauca), thresher shark (Alopias vulpinus), bigeye thresher (Alopias superciliosus), oceanic whitetip shark (Carcharhinus longimanus), sixgill shark (Hexanchus griseus), porbeagle (Lamna nasus), shortfin mako (Isurus oxyrinchus), and longfin mako (Isurus paucus). Large coastal sharks include dusky shark (Carcharhinus obscurus), reef shark (Carcharhinus perezi), blacktip shark (Carcharhincus limbatus), spinner shark (Carcharhinus bevipinna), silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis), bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas), night shark (Carcharhinus signatus), basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus), tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier), lemon shark (Negaprion brevirostris), whale shark (Rhincodon typus), scalloped hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini), great hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran), smooth hammerhead (Sphyrna zygaena), sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus), and great white shark (Carcharodon charcharias). Small coastal sharks include finetooth shark (Carcharhinus isodon), blacknose shark (Carcharhinus acronotus), Atlantic sharpnose shark (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae), bonnethead shark (Sphyrna tiburo), and Atlantic angel shark (Squatina dumeril).

There is concern for the declining populations of sharks, since they are slow-growing and long-lived species with slow reproductive rates. Although the three groups, pelagic, large coastal, and small coastal, are managed under a fisheries management plan, there is a critical lack of data necessary to address shark harvest rates and reproductive capacity.

Invertebrate Fisheries

Atlantic surf clam (Spisula solidissima), ocean quahog (Arctica islandica), and sea scallop (Placopecten magellanicus) are important resources of the Bight, and support substantial commercial fisheries. Surf clams are primarily found off the nearshore areas of Long Island and New Jersey coasts, from the beach zone to depths of about 60 meters (200 feet). Ocean quahogs are found further offshore in this same area at depths of 8 to 250 meters (26 to 820 feet). The sea scallop generally is found from 40 to 200 meters (130 to 650 feet) in waters south of Cape Cod; it requires cooler water temperatures of 20C (68F) or less for survival. American lobster (Homarus americanus), another very important commercially harvested invertebrate, is distributed in coastal rocky habitats and muddy burrowing areas with sheltering habitats, and offshore in the submarine canyon areas along the continental shelf edge. The lobster's life cycle is complex, taking 5 to 8 years and up to 20 molts for an individual to reach the minimum size for the fishery. In addition, the female lobster incubates her eggs by carrying them under her abdomen for 9 to 11 months and hatching them in late spring or early summer. Significant inshore fisheries exist for blue crab (Callinectes sapidus), northern quahog (Mercenaria mercenaua), and eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica).

Marine Mammals and Sea Turtles

The Bight has one of the highest diversities of marine mammals (Table 8) and sea turtles (Table 9) reported anywhere in the United States, and supports many threatened and endangered species. Studies by the Okeanos Foundation have demonstrated that the Bight is a critical development habitat for the highly endangered Atlantic (Kemp's) ridley turtle, as well as a major feeding area for leatherback, green, and loggerhead sea turtles. The Bight is also a significant wintering habitat for the growing population of harbor seals and for a smaller though increasing number of other northern Atlantic seals such as grey, harp, and hooded seals, expanding their ranges to the south. Finback, humpback, and minke whales utilize these waters frequently, and sperm whales are regularly sighted in the late spring. The critically endangered right whale migrates through the area and, on occasion, feeds in the Bight. Dolphin species, including common, bottlenosed, white-sided, and striped, as well as pilot whales, are often encountered in these waters. (Additional detail on these species is in the endangered species chapter).


American Fisheries Society. 1991. Common and scientific names of fishes from the United States and Canada. Special publication 20, Bethesda, MD.

Bigelow, H.B., and W. Schroeder. 1953. Fishes of the Gulf of Maine. Fishery Bulletin of the Fish and Wildlife Service, bulletin 74, volume 53. Washington, D.C.

Buckley, J.L. 1989. Species profiles: life histories and environmental requirements of coastal fishes and invertebrates (North Atlantic) -- Rainbow smelt. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Biological Report 82(11.122). U.S. Army Corps of Engineers TR EL-82-4.

Chang, S. 1990. Seasonal distribution patterns of commercial landings of 45 species off the Northeast United States during 1977-88. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Technical Memorandum NMFS-F/NEC-78. National Marine Fisheries Service, Sandy Hook Laboratory, Highlands, NJ.

Facey, D.E. and M.J. Van Den Avyle. 1987. Species Profiles: life histories and environmental requirements of coastal fishes and invertebrates (North Atlantic) -- American eel. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Biological Report 82(11.74). U.S. Army Corps of Engineers TR EL-82-4. 28 p.

Figlay, W. and T. McCloy. 1988. New Jersey's recreational and commercial fishing grounds of Raritan Bay, Sandy Hook Bay and Delaware Bay. Technical Series 88-1. New Jersey State Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Fish and Game, Marine Fisheries Administration, Trenton, NJ.

Freeman, B.L. and L.A. Walford. 1974. Anglers guide to the Atlantic coast. Section III Block Island to Cape May, New Jersey. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Sportfisheries, Seattle, WA.

Gilbert, C.R. 1989. Species profiles: life histories and environmental requirements of coastal fishes and invertebrates (Mid-Atlantic) -- Atlantic and shortnose sturgeons. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Biological Report 82(11.122). U.S. Army Corps of Engineers TR EL-82-4. 28 p.

Grosslein, M.D. and T. R. Azarovitz. 1982. Marine EcoSystem Analysis (MESA) Program, MESA New York Bight Project, Atlas Monograph 15, New York Sea Grant Institute, Albany, NY.

Hardy, J.D. 1978. Development of fishes of the Mid-Atlantic Bight. In Atlas of egg, larval and juvenile stages, vol. III. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Biological Services Program. FWS/OBS-78/12.

Jones, P.W., F.D. Martin, and J.D. Hardy, Jr. 1978. Development of fishes of the Mid-Atlantic Bight. In Atlas of egg, larval and juvenile stages, vol. I. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Biological Services Program. FWS/OBS-78/12.

Leatherwood S., D. K. Caldwell and H. Winn. 1976. Whales, dolphins, and porpoises of the Western North Atlantic, a guide to their identification. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Technical Report NMFS CIRC-369. Seattle, WA.

Long, D. and W. Figley. 1982. New Jersey's recreational and commercial fishing grounds. Technical Series 82-1. New Jersey State Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Fish and Game, Marine Fisheries Administration, Trenton, NJ.

Malone, T.C. 1977. Plankton systematics and distribution. MESA New York Bight Atlas Monograph 13. Marine Ecosystem Analysis Program, MESA New York Bight Project, New York Sea Grant Institute, Albany, NY.

McKenzie, T.P. and J. Nicolas. 1988. Cetaceans, sea turtles, and pinnipeds of the Mid-Atlantic water management unit. In Characterization of the Middle Atlantic water management unit of the Northeast regional action plan, pp. 263-254. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Technical Memorandum NMFS-F/NEC-56. Northeast Fisheries Science Center, Woods Hole, MA.

National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1993. Recovery plan for hawksbill turtles in the U.S. Caribbean Sea, Atlantic Ocean, and Gulf of Mexico. National Marine Fisheries Service, St. Petersburg, FL.

National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1992. Recovery plan for leatherback turtles in the Caribbean Sea, Atlantic Ocean, and Gulf of Mexico. National Marine Fisheries Service, Washington, D.C.

National Marine Fisheries Service and U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1991. Recovery plan for the U.S. population of Atlantic green turtle. National Marine Fisheries Service, Washington, D.C.

National Marine Fisheries Service. 1991. Final recovery plan for the humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae). Prepared by the Humpback Whale Recovery Team for the National Marine Fisheries Service, Silver Spring, MD. 105 p.

National Marine Fisheries Service. 1991. Recovery plan for the northern right whale (Eubalaena glacialis). Prepared by the Right Whale Recovery Team for the National Marine Fisheries Service, Silver Spring, MD. 86 p.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Services. October 1993. Status of the fisheries resources off the Northeastern United States for 1993. Conservation and Utilization Division, Northeast Fisheries Science Center. NTIS access no. PB94-. 140 p.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Services. October 1992. Status of the fisheries resources off the Northeastern United States for 1992. Conservation and Utilization Division, Northeast Fisheries Science Center. NTIS access no. PB93-144103. 133 p., 60 figs., 67 tables.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Services. September 1991. Status of the fisheries resources off the Northeastern United States for 1991. Conservation and Utilization Division, Northeast Fisheries Science Center. NTIS access no. PB92-113786. 132 p., 6 figs., 72 tables.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Service. 1991. Our living oceans, the first annual report on the status of U.S. living marine resources. NMFS-F/SPO-1. U.S. Department of Commerce, Washington, D.C.

National Research Council. 1990. Decline of the sea turtles: causes and prevention. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.

Pacheco, A.L. 1988. Characterization of the Middle Atlantic water management unit of the Northeast regional action plan. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Technical Memorandum NMFS-F/NEC-56. National Marine Fisheries Service, Sandy Hook Laboratory, Highlands, NJ.

Payne M.P. and D.W. Heinemann. 1990. Draft report: a distributional assessment of cetaceans in the shelf-edge waters of the Northeastern U.S. Based on Aerial and Shipboard Surveys, 1978 - 1988. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Service, Northeast Fisheries Science Center, Woods Hole, MA.

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TABLE 7. Federal and Interstate fishery management plans currently in place and/or under development for fisheries in the New York Bight. (Sources: NOAA-NMFS, ASMFC, NEFMC, and MAFMC)

Number Plan Organization Responsible Type Since Last Amendment Amendment Number
1 Northeast


NEFMC FMP 1986 1991 4
2 Atlantic Sea Scallop NEFMC FMP 1882 1989 4
3 American Lobster NEFMC FMP 1983 1989 3
4 Surf Clam

Ocean Quahog

NEFMC FMP 1977 1990 8
5 Squid-Mackerel-


MAFMC FMP 1978 1990  
6 Summer Flounder MAFMC/ASMFC Cooperative 1988 1993 4
7 Bluefish MAFMC/ASMFC Cooperative 1989 --- ---
8 Atlantic Herring MAFMC/ASMFC Cooperative   Under dev.  
9 Northern Shrimp MAFMC Interstate 1974 1986  
10 Striped bass ASMFC Interstate 1981 1995 5
11 Weakfish ASMFC Interstate 1985 1994 2
12 Shad and River Herring ASMFC Interstate 1985 Under dev.  
13 Atlantic Sturgeon ASMFC Interstate 1990 --- ---
14 Spanish Mackerel ASMFC Interstate adopt


1990 --- ---
15 Atlantic Menhaden ASMFC Interstate 1981 1992 1
16 Swordfish NMFS FMP   Under dev.  
17 Pelagic Sharks NMFS FMP   Under dev.  
18 Atlantic Billfish NMFS FMP   Under dev.  
19 Tilefish MAFMC FMP   Under dev.  
20 Atlantic Salmon NEFMC FMP 1987 --- ---
21 Winter Flounder ASMFC Interstate 1992 --- ---

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TABLE 8. Marine Mammals of the New York Bight. (Status as supplied by Okeanos Research Foundation, 1994)

Antillean beaked whale Mesoplodon europeaus MMP Ziphiidae UNK
Atlantic pilot whale Globicephala melaena MMP Delphinidae (dolphins) A
Atlantic white-sided dolphin Lagenorhynchus acutus MMP Delphinidae (dolphins) A
Beluga Delphinapterus leucas MMP Monodontidae R
Blue whale Balaenoptera musculus E Balaenopteridae (rorquals) "R,S"
Bottle-nosed dolphin Tursiops truncatus MMP Delphinidae (dolphins) "A,S"
Common dolphin Delphinus delphis MMP Delphinidae (dolphins) A
Dense-beaked whale Mesoplodon densirostris MMP Ziphiidae UNK
Fin whale Balaenoptera physalus E Balaenopteridae (rorquals) A
Goosebeaked whale Ziphius cavirostris MMP Ziphiidae UNK
Grampus Grampus griseus MMP Delphinidae (dolphins) A
Grey seal Halichoerus grypus MMP Phocidae "C,S"
Harbor porpoise Phocoena phocoena E Phocoenidae (porpoise) "I,S"
Harbor seal Phoca vitulina MMP Phocidae "A,ES"
Harp seal Phoca groenlandica MMP Phocidae "I,S"
Hooded seal Cystophora cristata MMP Phocidae "U,S"
Humpback whale Megaptera novaeangliae E Balaenopteridae (rorquals) "C,S"
Killer whale Orcinus orca MMP Delphinidae R
Minke whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata MMP Balaenopteridae (rorquals) A
Northern right whale Eubalaena glacialis E Balaenidae (right whales) "R,S"
Pygmy sperm whale Kogia breviceps MMP Physeteridae "C,UNK"
Ringed seal Phoca hispida MMP Phocidae "U,S"
Sei whale Baleanoptera borealis E Balaenopteridae (rorquals) "A,S"
Sperm whale Physeter catodon E Physeteridae "C,S"
Spotted dolphin Stenella plagiodon /attenuata MMP Delphinidae (dolphins) "A,S"
Striped dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba MMP Delphinidae (dolphins) "A,S"
True's beaked whale Mesoplodon mirus MMP Ziphiidae UNK

*A=Abundant, C=Common, I=Increasing in presence, R=Rare, UNK=Unknown, S=Seasonal,

ES=Extended seasonal


TABLE 9. Marine Sea Turtles of the New York Bight. (Status as supplied by Okeanos Research Foundation, 1994)

Atlantic (Kemp's) ridley sea turtle Lepidochelys kempii E A, S
Loggerhead sea turtle Carretta caretta P A, S
Green sea turtle Chelonia mydas E-P C, S
Leatherback sea turtle Dermochelys coriacea E A, S
Hawksbill sea turtle Eretmochelys imbricata E R

*A=Abundant, C=Common, I=Increasing in presence, R=Rare, UNK=Unknown, S=Seasonal,

ES=Extended seasonal

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