US Fish & Wildlife Service


Date of this Version



United States Department of the Interior, CONSERVATION BULLETIN NUMBER 38


Contents: Economics • Fishing gear • Fishing grounds • Conservation • Oysters (Ostrea virginica) • Blue crab (Callinectes sapidus) • Croaker (Micropogon undulatus) • Porgy (Stenotomus chrysops) • Striped bass (Roccus saxatilis) • Weakfish (Cynoscion regalis) • Summer flounder (Paralichthys dentatus) • Shad (Alosa sapidissima) • Butterfish (Poronotus triacanthus) • Spot (Leiostomus xanthurus) • Mackerel (Scomber scombrus) • Menhaden (Brevoortia spp) • River herring (Pornolobus spp) • Sea bass (Centropristes striatus) • Eel (Anguilla rostrata) • Whiting (Merluccius bilinearis) • Kingfish (Menticirrhus spp) • Bonito (Sarda sarda) • Mussels (Modiolus demissus) • Scallops: Bay (Aequipecten plagioctenium irradians) ; Sea (Placopecten grandis) • Hard shelled clam (Mercenaria mercenaria) • Surf clam (Mactra solidissima) • Appendix • Nutritive value of fish and shellfish • General guides for selecting and preparing fish • Bibliography •

The Middle Atlantic region is a natural division of the Atlantic coast in both a geographic and a biological sense. Its geographic boundaries are clearly defined: on the south Cape Hatteras, the most easterly seaward projection of the North Carolina shore; on the north Cape Cod. Biologically, the fauna of this long, curving Middle Atlantic shore is distinct from that of the North and South Atlantic coasts. Cape Hatteras and Cape Cod are natural boundaries of the marine world. There is some straying beyond them, some overlapping of ranges, but for the most part the truly southern, tropical or semi-tropical fishes live belo-v Hatteras, the typically cold water fishes beyond and north of Cape Cod.

Most characteristic of the Middle Atlantic fauna is a group of 60 or more species collectively known as shore fishes. They are a migratory group, their migrations are seasonal, and for generations their movements have determined the character of the fisheries of the region. In the spring and summer, shorefish move in to coastal waters, including bays, sounds, sometimes river estuaries. They tend to be more concentrated at this season toward the northern part of their range. In the fall and early winter they migrate to offshore more southerly wintering grounds.

Formerly the shorefish were taken only during the spring, summer, and fall, when on the inshore grounds. No one knew exactly where the fish went in winter, nor how to follow and capture them. About 1930, however, the offshore winter home of the shorefish was discovered; gear and vessels were developed which were suitable for fishing these grounds in stormy winter weather. Now intensive winter fisheries have grown up, working the offshore area from about 80 miles off New York City all the way to the vicinity of Cape Hatteras, and shorefishes come into the markets throughout the year.

While the shorefishes are most typical of the Middle Atlantic fauna, they are not the most valuable aquatic resource of the region. This distinction falls to oysters, the product for which the region is best and most widely known. Since the earliest beginnings of the oyster industry, the Chesapeake Bay has held first rank as a producer of oysters. The area as a whole now provides more than half of all the oyster harvest taken in United States waters, and its fishermen receive approximately eight million dollars for this single aquatic crop. (Fishermen's income from all Middle Atlantic fishery products: about 22 million dollars.)

Other special resources give the Middle Atlantic region a unique position as a source of aquatic foods. Nearly two-thirds of the catch of ' Atlantic coast crabs is taken in this area, mostly in Chesapeake Bay. Receiving the drainage of the mightiest rivers of the Atlantic coast--the Hudson, the Delaware, the Susquehanna, and the Potomac--the Middle Atlantic region is the center of the fisheries for shad and river herring, species which live most of their lives in the sea, but enter fresh water to spawn. The area provides more than half the total catch of menhaden, first ranking Atlantic coast fish in volume of production. Its waters yield the first mackerel, swordfish, and tuna of the season. since each of these oceanic wanderers enters coastal waters north of Hatteras as it turns shoreward in spring.

36 pages, with maps & illustrations.
Conservation Bulletin Number 38